By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Thomas and Nikele Jones, Kevin Jackson, Tyrone and Teleia Gunby, Ebony Barnes, Dan King, and Sunny Vespico all have two things in common: they love their kids, and they love football.
So, 18 months ago, they decided to use football and athletics to save their children.
“We were seeing that after they were finished with [peewee] football and became teenagers, they were getting into trouble,” recalls Thomas Jones, “and we knew this was a good child and [we] asked, ‘How did they get involved in that?’ ”
Instead of complaining, the group decided to take action. The idea behind the Wolves Youth Athletic Association was born in August 2012. The goal was to use athletics to mentor young boys and girls.
“Football was just a vehicle,” says Jones. “We wanted young people who had leadership qualities.”
Over the course of the subsequent year, the board of directors — guided by the mantra, “Sua sponte” (“of our own accord”), dedicated themselves to creating a youth football team that could hit the ground running in 2013.
The board found a suitable football field near George W. Pepper Middle South, on South 84th Street in Southwest Philadelphia. They called on the city to install goalposts and worked to raise $10,000 for uniforms, pads, helmets, and more for four divisions of youth football (peewee, midget, junior, and senior) as well as a cheerleading squad for the young ladies.
“Whether it be football, basketball, mentoring, whatever way we could reach out,” says Teleia Gunby, “we just wanted to create a safer environment and better our children.”
The Wolves joined the Delaware Valley Youth Football League, offsetting the price of uniforms and training for kids by hosting fish fries, bowling parties, and athletic competition fundraisers.
Within just a few months, the group says, they created a new culture for more than 100 young people and their families.
“Our group has expanded so large,” says Thomas Jones, “we keep everybody on point with communication and scheduling, and our parent involvement pushes us to continue what we do.”
As for the young people, Tyrone Gunby says they recruit them from all over the City of Philadelphia. Board members use their own time and energy to ensure the kids make it to games and to practices.
“We teach them discipline,” says Tyrone Gunby, “and it was good because you could see kids progress, they didn’t quit, they kept going, they got better.”
And while the coaches say they could have done better, the Midget Division made it to the playoffs during the first season.
“Usually, an organization coming in the first year never makes it to the playoffs,” says Kevin Jackson, who coached the Midget squad.
But the board, the players, the teams are more than just a loose association of people who love football.
“We are a tight army,” says Teleia Gunby. “We are a village.”
A village with a vision.
“We hope that we can raise up young men and women who will grow up to be leaders in the future and will represent their community with high character,” says Thomas Jones. “If we can instill that to our children, we would have done our job.”
The Wolves Youth Athletic Association is looking for sponsors and will host a fish fry in March. For more information, go to wolvesathletic.webs.com.
Hear the extended interview with the board in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 14:27)…