WEST GARFIELD PARK — A sports center has opened on the West Side, offering football, baseball, cheerleading and other athletic programs for kids.
South Side coaches Ernest Radcliffe, head of the baseball program at Morgan Park High School, and Rynell Morgan, who works with the Southside Wolfpack football team, opened their athletic facility Sunday at 22 N. Pulaski Road. The center — its name is yet to be decided — will offer programs for several age groups.
The center will bring neighborhood youth excellent athletic opportunities that can offer stability and build character, Morgan said.
“No matter what, there’s going to be challenges in your life. But you can overcome those challenges as long as you continue to work hard, and you are disciplined, you have some dedication and some determination,” Morgan said.
It made sense for Radcliffe to open a facility of his own since it was costly to book training spaces for the baseball program he runs. Ratcliffe’s travel team, called the Show Baseball, plays in competitive tournaments across the country.
Many participants go on to play in college on scholarships, Radcliffe said, but having access to an indoor training facility is “the only way to keep up with other players across the country.”
The sports and recreation programs Radcliffe and Morgan already run will operate out of the new facility, which will open up more opportunities for West Siders to participate, Radcliffe said. Even with social distancing restrictions that lower capacity, the center will be able to serve hundreds of neighborhood youth, he said.
“Sports is a vehicle to giving people opportunities to use their athletic abilities along with academics to go to college. It also builds camaraderie and character, great discipline,” Radcliffe said.
After-school programs like sports can also deter crime by giving young people constructive activities to occupy their time, Radcliffe said.
“If you grab youth at a young age, it curtails a lot of violence and young people from joining gangs,” Radcliffe said.
The coaches are building partnerships with neighborhood groups so local organizations and youth programs already active in West Garfield Park can use the sports center as “a safe haven,” Morgan said.
“We want the community to use it because it is there to be used,” Morgan said. “It’s not just about our organization. We want to make sure that other organizations … use the facility so that their kids and the whole community have a sense that this belongs to everyone.”
The Pulaski Road location offered the most practical option for the coaches, who said they hope to launch similar centers throughout the city. The center previously housed an adult sports program, so when Radcliffe leased it out, the building already had everything they needed.
The center came with two batting cages, a pitching machine, battle ropes and large turf areas for running drills. Radcliffe is also building a weight training section he hopes will be used by youth in their programs and the wider community.
“There’s a senior building across the street. I want to … have the seniors come in in the morning,” Ratcliffe said. “I want it to be open all day so everybody within restrictions can be able to use the facility. Because it’s what’s needed.”
To sign up for Radcliffe’s sports programs or partner with the center, email him at Eradcliffe1@yahoo.com.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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