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The Chester Panthers Youth Empowerment and Athletic Association celebrates 25 years of community and football in the Main Line area.
Quasir Peña may be only 7 years old, but the lineman roars. He reveals a sample of what he calls his Star wars “The sound of Chewbacca”, which he unleashes before taking his football opponents where he wants them. “Then they don’t do anything,” Peña says. “I make my noise, and they leave. In defense, I want all the tackles. Then his trainer, Ty Bush, asks him, “If you were to rate the Chester Panthers experience between 1 and 10, how would you rate it?”
“An 11½, but I like everything: racing, tackling and aerial combat,” said Peña. “I like to grab them at the legs and weaken them, then they fall and fall.”
It’s the 25e anniversary season of the Chester Panthers Youth Empowerment and Athletic Association. “One of the craziest things is that the cost to register is only $ 25,” says President Charles Thompson. “It has grown by about a dollar a year.
Founded in 1996, the program was initially closed in 2000 due to financial constraints and a lack of local government support. “At first, the brothers shared helmets with their brothers on game day,” says Thompson. “We had to put everything in our houses. There were no containers or sheds in the fields like now. All we had was this open space.
Nine-year-old Ulysses “Mally” Allen, another lineman, is a freshman. Thompson found him and his 5-year-old nephew during spring training between April and June, a kind of re-initiation of the program after the lost year of the pandemic. He asked why they weren’t playing.
“My dad didn’t sign me up,” Allen told him.
“Well, bring your dad here,” said Thompson.
“I love the practices, the energy of the coaches and the fact that they teach us discipline,” said Allen, who sacked the opposing team’s quarterback four times in his first scrum. “If I didn’t play I would be home playing games and eating, but I think I still have a few bags in me. “
The most popular Panthers player in the locals right now is Ny’Ques Farlow-Davis, a 13-year-old who was shot on May 3, 2020. He died a day later. Three men and a woman have been charged and are awaiting trial. Although former Panthers have perished, this was the first time the program has lost a current player. “It was tough,” says Thompson. “He was targeted. He was a popular and exceptional athlete. He was famous, and others here don’t like it. It was the jealousy of adults.
“Nobody liked that kid,” says Marlise Carr, director of the program’s cheerleading team, whose daughter celebrated her birthday on the day of the murder. “He was gentle, kind. He came from a good line, a good family. It’s such a sad world, but here we have tried to provide a safe place to communicate, a place for the brethren to come together and cry about it. Even though it was not easy to talk.
The Panthers plan to name their Chester Veterans Memorial Park grounds the Ny’Ques Farlow Davis Field of Dreams – and possibly add a bronze bench to it in his memory. “There are a lot of things we want to do,” says Thompson. “He has a foundation. We name our team 14U Team Ny’Ques.
Thompson is responsible for restarting that program in 2004. He wasn’t even on the board when he did — he was an assistant coach. Initially, Thompson was forced to take his own parents to the Falcons in Claymont (Del.), Who welcomed the newcomers. “They knew what they were doing,” he says. “They knew we had athletes.
Then, one day, back in Chester Park, a young boy on a bicycle with a soccer ball in his hands stopped him. “He asked, ‘Coach C., why don’t we have football here anymore?’ Thompson remembers. “To this day, I don’t know who this boy was. I wasn’t training a kid, but all the kids knew who we were. I knew I had to come back, and that’s when I decided to start a lifelong learning test on how to run a program. We have been working on it ever since. “
“It’s a labor of love,” says Carr.
“Is that what they call him now?” Thompson replies, using a towel to wipe up his summer workout sweat. “At first I called him stupid. It was a hell of a sacrifice, but we made our name so well. Sometimes kids call me “the YouTube trainer”. Our reputation has surpassed itself.
In the beginning, it took every penny that Thompson had – and he had just bought a house. But he had a good job, working for a bank in Merion. Bur instead of furniture in his living room, he had 100 sets of football helmets and shoulder pads. Then he started to secure the coaches. One of them was Bush, now vice-president of the Panthers and head coach of the 7-and-under team. He refused at first, then changed his mind. “It took my first time here,” said Bush sheepishly. “I started to go down the hill and quickly found myself on the 50-meter line.”
All the coaches went through town looking for children and parents, telling them, “We’re getting him back. “
In the first year, there were 76 children aged 5 to 15 and five teams. Now there are 300 participants, four single flag football teams for the younger ones, and enough support teams to award two per team. Success has come with bumps and bruises – “and some of them,” Bush says, pulling out a few more gray hairs.
Between Thompson and Bush, they have won 20 championships in the past 10 years. Two affiliates, National American Youth Football and the Independent Youth Football League, have 12 related programs in Chester and Delaware counties. When an age-level team wins an IYFL title, they move on to regional. A regional title qualifies a team for the National Age Category Championships in Florida, which the Panthers have done six times since 2015.
Then there are the former Panthers who qualified for the National Football League. Current players include Bilal Nichols (Chicago Bears) and Gary Brightwell (New York Giants). There is also an NFL coach: Ronell Williams, defensive specialist with the Bears. Three others have spent time in the NFL: Jerome Smith (Atlanta Falcons), Will Hunter (Minnesota Vikings) and Shaheer McBride (Philadelphia Eagles). “We did this with muscle, hard work and a bit of sponsorship,” says Thompson, who only played a year of organized high school football and is currently not a coach for physical and family reasons.
A successful grant led by State Representative Brian Kirkland took two years to gain traction, but it recently covered the expense of building and storing a concession stand. Kirkland also helped lobby for permanent lights on the ground as part of the Keystone Communities grant that lights up much of the rest of the streets in Chester. In total, he helped secure $ 190,000 in state development funds for the program. “Like any program that helps kids in my district, I’ll always be behind,” says Kirkland. “The idea was to ask what we can do to establish sustainability and recurring profits so the Panthers can make their own money. “Anytime you give a kid an opportunity or something to do, it’s a plus. When they are bored, they find something to start. Charles Thompson and his staff help and stay with the children. Are they saving lives? Absoutely.”
“It’s gratifying,” said Carr, who was eight of her cheerleaders, when Thompson relaunched the program. “These are our children, our tomorrow. They need something to keep them from going in so many wrong directions.
As for Bush, he knows one thing. “Two hours every weekday evening and eight hours Saturday is the safest place in town,” he says. “Not just for children, but also for parents. “
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