By MORLEY MUSICK
The Southside Wolfpack’s 12-and-under football team squeezed in more practice Friday evening at the Jackson Park football field in preparation for the American Youth Football National Championships on Dec. 7 in Orlando, Florida.
It is the first time the 12U division team has qualified for the Nationals, where they will be joined by the Wolfpack’s Cheerleading Team, who also made it to nationals after placing second in the regional cheer competition.
Their shared victories launched the organization into a frenzy of fundraising efforts to cover the $18,500 in travel, food, and hotel expenses for the trip. Although some parents could not afford airline and hotel prices, Wolfpack Athletic Director Ernest Radcliffe was confident that the team would be able to achieve its funding goals.
Saturday morning, he led uniformed players to solicit donations at the 87th street exit of the Dan Ryan. The team’s Go Fund Me page, along with a group of dedicated parents, are also helping to defray costs. Everyone seemed in high spirits about the competition at the night’s practice, with several parents, players, and coaches taking interview requests from NBC5 and the Chicago Tribune.
Wolfpack Receiver Leonard Gipson Jr. attributed his team’s winning streak to their longstanding rapport, saying “I’ve been playing with [the Wolfpack] since I was 8 years old, so we know how to work together as a team.” The four coaches present on Friday night also attributed success to the unusual degree of involvement they have in the players’ lives.
Coach Will Eusilagbara estimated that he spends about 80 hours on the program each week, tutoring players in his home, visiting them in school, and talking to their teachers and parents in order to help them succeed. His time in the military helps him to teach discipline to his players, he said.
“A lot of these kids have nothing else. If they didn’t have this they would be out in the streets,” but when it works, when the kids get good grades and the team plays well, “it’s like watching a symphony,” he said.
Tonya Radcliffe, the head of the cheerleading team, shares Coach Will’s commitment to the Wolfpack. She drives the girls on the cheerleading team home after every practice, takes them out for dinners, and offers counsel on growing up.
Cheerleading doesn’t raise as much money as football and isn’t always taken seriously as a sport, she said, “but I tell my girls my own story. I got a cheerleading scholarship. It can take you places.” Two of the Cheerleading team leaders were with Tonya, calling her “Mama Tonya” affectionately to get her attention. The cheerleading team has made it to nationals twice before and will arrive in Orlando on Dec. 10.
Or donate by calling Coach Radcliffe at: 773-567-4727.