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Chicago's Cheetahs Join Titans for Community Service

By Glen Justice, 10/18/17, 4:15PM HST


Fourteen high school basketball athletes from Chicago joined Titans players in a community service program, at DC Urban Greens, known as a "Garden in Food Desert." It was part of their three-day visit to D.C. in October, which included tours of major sites and visits to universities. 

The Chicago visitors, all girls, and many whom had never been out of Chicago,  are students at DRW College Prep, in Chicago's North Lawndate neighborhood. 

Together, the student-athletes worked in the community garden of the Georgetown Titans’ charity partner DC Urban Greens, preparing  the gardens to plant and harvest fresh produce for inner-city residents in the under-served Anacostia neighborhood. 

Sponsored by the nationally known youth sport training, education and advocacy program Play Like A Champion Today and the community-conscious Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago’s West Loop, the experience will emphasize how team sports facilitates character and confidence-building, selflessness, community service and teamwork.

The Georgetown Titans Youth Hockey program is a culturally and socioeconomically diverse roster of 70 youth in kindergarten to 8th grade.  The organization offers a low-cost, skills-based hockey program to boys and girls in the D.C. metro area, many of whom are not able to participate in more expensive programs.

“Our youth are looking forward to meeting the young ladies from DRW College Prep and they’re equally excited about partnering with the players to work in the community garden we have proudly maintained for many years,” said Willy Meaux, founder and director of coaching for the Georgetown Titans. “Our program has always been an inclusive one that uses sports to help youth from many backgrounds build character, broaden their horizons and prepare for their future, which we hope includes going to college.

“This will be a great opportunity for our kids to use sports as a bridge to their personal growth and development,” Meaux added, “and yet another important opportunity to learn how to overcome challenges they may face every day.”

Charles Merrick, director of Recruitment and Enrollment and DRW College Prep girls’ varsity basketball coach, says the 14 young ladies ready to embark on the trip are thrilled and anxious.

“For our students to succeed, they need to see different neighborhoods, have new experiences and meet new people,” Merrick said.  “There is a huge difference between ‘seeing’ and ‘saying.’ Because too many of our students rarely have an opportunity to travel outside of Chicago and the state, visiting the nation’s capital and touring college campuses like Howard University and visiting the National African American History museum certainly will be life-changing experiences and highlights. When students broaden their horizons, their outlook of life opens in a number of positive ways.”

He continued: “This trip, including our tour of Georgetown University and seeing a world-class facility like the John R. Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center on Georgetown’s campus, will make the students’ goals more tangible and achievable. Our sincere appreciation goes to Old St. Pat’s and Play Like A Champion for making it all possible.”

Merrick added that, because there is a need for more positive portrayals of inner city communities like North Lawndale to help motivate youth, the trip will have positive, long-lasting outcomes beyond his team and school. “They will be able to bring back important information to their peers and neighbors to inspire them as well," he said. 

DRW College Prep is a member of the Noble Network of Charter Schools. The young ladies on the team will be accompanied by six adult chaperones. The group will travel by Amtrak train. 

The genesis of this city-to-city, student-athlete collaboration dates back to exchanges between coaches Merrick and Meaux at Play Like a Champion Today’s national leadership conference this past summer. The conference engaged participants in what Merrick described as “genuine conversations about race and community.”

Play Like a Champion Today is committed to building a responsible sports culture that promotes the intellectual and moral as well as athletic development of all student-athletes, especially those from economically distressed communities. The North Lawndale Kinship Initiative, a community development outreach of Old St. Patrick's Catholic Church, also helped make the trip possible. The 6,000- member congregation in Chicago's West Loop engaged to help make the worthwhile experience possible as they frequently do with other organizations in the North Lawndale neighborhood where DRW is located.

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