The Forest Park Neighborhood Football League Black Hawks are no strangers to traveling. They’ve toured several different cities in the United States in recent years, including a trip to Boston last year along with a national championship appearance in Florida.

But this past weekend, the Baltimore-based youth football organization, for the first time, visited a land enshrined in pro sports history.

Forest Park took three busloads of eager youths, coaches and parents to the legendary Pro Football Hall of Fame Museum in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 21. “This place is amazing, man,” said Forest Park Vice President Curtis Covington. “I’m more excited to be here than the kids.”

While in Ohio, Forest Park also visited Cleveland to catch the Browns take on the St. Louis Rams in a rainy NFL preseason game. For some, it was their first time attending an NFL game, adding to an exciting road trip that they’ll remember forever.

“Just to be able to see life outside of Baltimore and witness positivity like this is something that will stay with them throughout their lives,” said William Cooper, a coach for one of the Forest Park football squads. “You never know how this will influence the kids. Some of them kids may end up in this Hall of Fame themselves down the road.”

Coach Cooper wasn’t just talking about his kids, either.

Forest Park has been in the business of creating fun and lasting memories for Baltimore youths for decades, but this time around they invited friends from Illinois to join the fun.

Three different youth football organizations joined Forest Park in Canton, including the Garfield Gators, Naperville Patriots and Columbus Day Stars. Together, they played 10 football games in a Maryland vs. Illinois faceoff that lasted from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Aug. 22. Each game was played at Fawcett Stadium, home of the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame game.

“We first came up with the idea to set this up after speaking with the American Youth Football (AYF) president. We like to travel somewhere different every year, so he suggested we look into doing something here,” said Forest Park Neighborhood Football League administrator Kim Bey. “So we got on the phone, called up teams and made it happen.”

Inviting the Garfield Gators ended up being more of a blessing than most expected. The Chicago-based organization was having troubles funding for the trip and faced the possibilities of not being able to go at all. But after The Chicago Tribune wrote an article on their invitation to Forest Park’s first annual Youth Football HOF Jamboree, Garfield received thousands of dollars in donations.

“It was a blessing in disguise that this event was able to help Garfield out,” Covington said. “But that’s what we do this stuff for. It’s all for the kids.”

Because Forest Park was so successful in putting together the jamboree, several other youth programs around the country have contacted them with interest in participating in the event next year.

“We have a couple places we may want to visit next year, including North Carolina,” said Forest Park President Jerry Gaylord. “But with such a great turnout in Canton, we’re definitely considering making this a yearly tradition.”

For those interested in joining or supporting Forest Park Neighborhood Youth League, contact 443-938-8044.


Perry Green

AFRO Sports Editor