After five decades without a youth football program, the Manchester Jaguars are back offering Manchester residents a positive influence for their children
By: Christopher Ward
It’s not all about wins and losses for the Manchester Jaguars – even though winning games are certainly a plus – it’s about instituting discipline and life lessons to kids through the game of football.
The football program in Manchester is a valuable commodity for the community offering youth an outlet and an opportunity to be a part of organized sports that has otherwise been absent for some time.
“It keeps the kids out of the streets and keeps them busy so that they are not joining into illegal things. It helps the parents out and it helps them out,” team president Crystal Watts said. “We’re looking into getting a tutoring program also once school starts.”
The Jaguars were created in 2016 and are participating in their first season this fall. The program was founded by Watts, who is heavily involved in the Northside community and has aspirations of having a building where she can do recreational work with children within the next few years.
The Jaguars field three teams – the Termites (ages 9 to 10), Mighty Mites (ages 11 to 12) and Midgets (ages 13 to 15). In total, not counting cheerleaders, the program has 75 kids participating in football, according to Watts.
“We are a new program, so we are starting from scratch. Your work from the bottom and you work on up,” Watts said.
The slogan for the Jaguars is “Respect all, Fear none.” A motto created by Watts that is echoed throughout the program.
“The game of football teaches great life lessons,” said Mike James, who is an assistant coach for the Jaguars’ Might Mites. “All of my sons played and went on to college and got good jobs. Football teaches them about discipline, honor, respect, and teamwork. It builds a sense of unity, being as one. You’re not bigger than everything else. You have to work for everything.”
James says that having a youth football program on the Northside creates a safe haven for kids.
“They can come every day, they don’t have to deal with what’s going on the streets,” he said. “It creates a sense of pride and bonds, everyone together and gives them something to shoot for.”
James believes it’s important to instill certain values to the kids as they are growing up. The role of mentorship is an intangible part of the program.
“A lot of these kids are coming from single-parent homes, kids in the system, they need somebody. The coaches that are here are mentors, big brothers, dads and uncles,” said James. “They fill that void and give these guys somebody to look up to.”
Coach Daniel Thompson is one of those coaches that kids can look towards for guidance.
“I am a mentor. I try to help these kids. It’s more than just football,” Thompson said. “Trying to keep these kids off the streets and out of trouble. I had a bad upbringing and I wish I had someone tell me, hey come and play football, take your aggression out by playing football and not something else.”
Thompson says that it starts with the adults in the community when it comes to implementing a positive environment for kids.
“All these kids are from the inner-city,” Thompson said. “They’re influenced by what they are living around. People from the outside got to understand that it’s not so much the kids, but what their influences are. I am trying my best to teach these kids better, so they can have a better upbringing than myself.”
Thompson has created an incentive based exercise for the players. With his own money he bought six helmets for the kids, however, he hasn’t given them out yet because he wants the kids to earn them. The objective is to teach the players the importance of work ethic.
“I want the kids to understand that if you want what you want in life, you have to work for it,” Thompson said. “When life feels like you deserve what you deserve, it will grant it to you.”
Ronald Stanley, the head coach for the Jaguars’ Mighty Mites wants wins, but most importantly, he wants the kids to grow as people.”
“I want the kids to grow maturity wise before they get on the field because you have to learn how to play as a team before you can play for yourself,” Stanley said. “I want the kids to know that this game is bigger than them, it’s bigger than going out and catching a ball. It’s about being better off the field as well.”
The Jaguars’ Mighty Mites fell to the South Side Bears 7-0. It was a defense dominated game for both sides. The Jaguars held the Bears’ offense at bay for most of the game, but after turning the ball over on downs in the second quarter, the Bears capitalized off the good field position and scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to make it 7-0. On the next possession, Jaguars’ quarterback Dorian McGee rolled out to the left and threw a 70-yard touchdown to wide receiver Binky Tot, but the score was nullified due to a block in the back called on the Jaguars. On the following play, McGee was sacked and stripped, the Bears recovered the loose ball. However, it looked like McGee’s arm was moving forward, which would have resulted in an incomplete pass, but the officials disagreed.
The Jaguars’ offense struggled to get anything going in the second half, but their defense kept them in the game by swarming to the ball and forcing a couple of turnovers. Late in the fourth quarter, the Bears long snapper snapped the ball over the punter’s head and the Jaguars would take over on downs on the Bears’ 10-yard line with 14 seconds remaining. On the final play from the 5-yard line, the Jaguars called a quarterback sweep to the left side, but the Bears defense kept them out of the end zone.
“My team played pretty well, for the most part, we dealt with a lot of adversity,” head coach Ronald Stanley said. “I was proud of their effort throughout the game. It’s not easy playing with just 14 players and having them play offense, defense and special teams. They played hard and to only give up 7 points is impressive. We made progress in a lot of areas, but we just lost on the scoreboard.”
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