Journey House youth athletics programs return after two-year hiatus caused by COVID

Recruitment is currently underway for participants in the Journey House Packers Football program. (Photo provided by Journey House)

After two years without baseball, football and other summer sports programs at Journey House due to the COVID-19 pandemic, youth leagues are up and running this year or soon will be.

Michele Bria, longtime CEO of Journey House, a South Side nonprofit in the Clarke Square neighborhood, said the organization plans to engage several hundred young people this summer in what leaders describe. as “outdoor classrooms”.

“These programs are all about education,” Bria said, adding that participants must have a library card, write a reading report, and be responsible in school. “How you behave in school is just as important as how you behave on the pitch.”

About 180 youngsters participate in the center’s Felix Mantilla Little League, which plays its games at Baran Park, 2600 S. Chase Ave.

Martin Weddle, director of youth programs at Journey House, located at 2110 W. Scott St., said football programming will begin July 11 with a free two-week clinic.

During the clinic, which will be held at the Journey House Packers stadium in nearby Mitchell Park, young people will learn life skills training, conditioning, life skills, among other benefits.

“The only thing participants need is 32 ounces of water and sports clothes,” Weddle said.

Registration is open for the program, which is for students in grades three through eight and is part of the Wisconsin All-American Youth Football League, or AAYFL. The first official practice is scheduled for August 1.

Weddle said Journey House’s youth sports programs focus on six core elements, each highlighted during a weekly theme. One is education and athletics while another is character and life skills.

In terms of building character and life skills, Weddle said this includes creating a culture of responsibility and teaching children how to deal with challenges such as anxiety and trauma.

“If you’re stressed and you’re going through trauma, it’s hard for you to go out there and play,” he said. “We have embraced this culture of peace and stress management and teach breathing practices that help.”

One of the people helping youngsters master these techniques is LouRawls Burnett, a SKY meditation, yoga instructor and basketball coach at Journey House. Burnett said SKY is a breathing technique that helps bring the body into meditation.

“Breathing can affect our decisions, thoughts and actions,” said Burnett, who first came to Journey House to participate in programs when he was 12 years old.

In addition to football and baseball leagues, Journey House also plans to host a soccer and lacrosse clinic this summer, a youth pom pom camp in July and a dance camp in August. It also recruits young people to participate in a weekly meditation, agility, speed and strength, or MASS, camp.

With the exception of a basketball program that ran during the school year in partnership with Longfellow School, which is adjacent to Journey House, all official sports programs were closed in 2020 and 2021. This required a strong recruitment drive this year to re-engage young people. .

“I traveled to over 25 area schools, distributed 3,500 flyers and held 18 parent orientation meetings,” Weddle said.

The ultimate goal of sports programs is to support the organization’s mission to end generational poverty, Bria said. Sport accomplishes this by helping young people learn strong values ​​and develop character.

“Then, whatever career path you choose, you’re passionate and committed and more likely to succeed,” she said. “Athletics is a great way to evolve into high performance.”


How to participate

You can register for all of Journey House’s summer programs here.

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