A new flag football league in Gary, Ind., has united the community and incorporated mentorship into its sport.
The G Flag Football League includes middle and high school students from Steel City Academy, Lighthouse Academy, 21st Century Charter, Charter School of the Dunes, Gary Middle School and City Life Center’s after school program.
The sport was officially launched in the city last fall, but has been in the making for years. Ken Barry, executive director of City Life Center, initiated the league and partnered with schools in the Gary community.
“For the last seven years, I have been hearing that there’s nothing for kids in Gary to do,” said Barry. “I made a commitment to this city to get to the day where that was no longer a reality.”
“Flag football provides both boys and girls in Gary the opportunity to engage in a low cost, high energy and nationally recognized sport,” said Barry. “Playing under the umbrella of NFL flag also opens up the door to travel opportunities that kids would not otherwise get. For kids who rarely ever get out of Gary, this is a huge plus.”
A 15-year-old home-schooled student, Gianni Iacovacci, was one of the many players who traveled with the team. “We went to Michigan for a flag football tournament,” said Iacovacci. “I felt really excited to go because I don’t travel a lot. All of the trips out of this city have been with this program.”
In addition to traveling opportunities, the flag football coaches aim to mentor the students on and off the field.
“They encourage us to do better. They try to push us,” said Izaiah Stone, a seventh grade student. “The coaches are not only in my sports life, they’re in my personal life. They want to make sure that I’m doing good in school so that way I can play on the field. They always say education comes first.”
Chris Ferrill, a coach for the Lighthouse Bears flag football team, plays an active role in the students’ lives on a daily basis.
“I consider myself like a big brother to them,” said Ferrill. “I go up to the schools and I check on them. I make sure that they are handling their business in school. If they need anything, I try to help.”
Ferrill states that flag football has impacted the children's lives by keeping them productive.
“One thing I’ve noticed when we haven’t had flag, some of the kids find other stuff to do and some of those things haven't been productive for their lives,” said Ferrill. “A lot of these kids stay out of trouble by having flag as a part of their normal weekly routine. It consumes so much time that it prevents a lot of negativity.”
Jhe’Vonte Meade, an 11th grade player for City Life Center’s Raiders team, looks up to his coaches.
“I look at Mr. Barry and coach Chris Ferrill as father figures because mine passed away,” said Meade. “I look at coach Chris Burnett as a brother, someone that I can actually talk to if I need help. I’m learning now to be a lot more disciplined and calm. I’m hot-headed and sometimes make stupid decisions, but I’m learning how to be better by being mentored.”
“It’s a good feeling when they look up to you,” said coach Chris Burnett. “Realizing that I’m mentoring this huge group of kids was a little harder because it's a different approach for all of them, so you can’t treat them all the same.”
The flag football season will begin after schools reconvene. The coaches encourage the public to attend and show support.
“Anytime anybody can see what’s going on in Gary, I just think that it’s a beautiful thing when we show up and support,” said Ferrill. “That’s how things continue to have life. It’s about participation, not just the players who are directly involved, but when people watch the kids play.”
City Life Center is a non-profit organization based in Gary, Ind. that helps families thrive by connecting them to opportunities, resources and information. CLC is a recipient of the Indiana Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Center grant. For more information, visit www.citylifenwi.org or call 219-880-4851.