It was in December of 2019 when the Chicago Southside Wolfpack 12U (12 and under) team played their last game during the first round of the American Youth Football National Championship in Kissimmee, Florida. They came up short in that game, losing to the Virginia Wolverines, and have been hunkered down ever since.
Since then, joined by the Wolfpack’s 8U, 10U and 14U teams, they have been waiting out the pandemic, as we all have been.
That wait now seems to be ending for the Wolfpack.
On April 14, Coach Knikki Mayfield looked around at the 100 or so young men and boys stretching and running on the Jackson Park track and field and said out loud, “It’s football weather.” And it was: A bit windy, a bright sun, and cool enough to need the exercise to keep warm.
“Keep your social distance,” she shouted at the players. And then, “If you don’t have your mask on, put it on.”
Since the Wolfpack announced on Facebook that practices for a spring season were going to start, the organization has had a surfeit of applicants.
“Actually today, I sat down and did a count,” said Coach Rynell Morgan, who is working to put together a schedule of games. “We are offering a 6U team for the first time … in our 24 years. So, we have a 6U, an 8U, a 10U, a 12U and a 14U. With those 5 teams, we have 113 kids total.”
“So it’s a lot. It’s a lot we have to do, because there’s a lot of paper work, contact tracing. We’ve got a lot of different things that we have to make sure we follow out there on the field,” added Morgan.
From December 2019 to the third week of January 2021 — except for a short stretch of time in the late summer of 2020 when the Wolfpack coaches organized a series of seven-on-seven flag football games — the players and their families have been on their own to stay in shape.
“Bored, bored,” says Sharena Atkinson as she explained how her six-year-old son Daivon, who is joining the Wolfpack this year, has been around the house.
“My son is super active,” she continued. “He cannot sit down.”
“I am a sports mom. I coach basketball. So that’s all he knows, either being in the gym or being on somebody’s field. And obviously when the pandemic happened, that could not occur.”
In January of this year the Wolfpack “was blessed enough to come receive an opportunity to lease an indoor facility on the West Side of Chicago,” said Coach Morgan.
“So, by us being able to do that we were able to socially distance inside the facility with the kids to keep them active,” he continued.
“We had a two-story facility, first floor and a second floor, and we were able to separate them based on their age and keep them separated inside the facility.”
“Oh, it’s beautiful. It’s on the West Side, it’s not that far,” said Gwendolyn Chambliss, the mother of two Wolfpack sons, Aki King and Dmarion Chambliss, as she described the facility. “They have two levels, bathroom, full kitchen. It’s really nice, it’s really nice. And it has all the equipment the kids need.”
As practice continued, the kids lined up into groups by age, ran a couple of laps and then moved to work with their respective coaches.
Coach Chris Coutee-Bouyer has coached with the Wolfpack for three years. He took his group of 8U players to the Cornell Drive side of the field, and had them stretch as they lined up.
“I’m getting them to do cardio workouts, giving them instruction on 2-point and 3-point stances. Teaching the fundamentals,” he said as he watched the group of kids. Soon the kids were running plays, serious but smiling, enjoying the workout.
Coach Chris was a Wolfpack team member himself when he was in 7th and 8th grade.
Hollis Green, whose two sons were at the practice, said, “I am really impressed with the league itself, with Southside Wolfpack.”
“All the coaches have been very committed. You know, a lot of the coaches do not live in the area. So, quite a ways for them to travel, and they give up a lot of their free time for the league and they set great examples for the kids.”
“We are hoping and praying that we have a fall season” said Coach Morgan as he discussed the future. And then, referring to the recently-filed Protect our Parks (POP) lawsuit, Morgan added, “We are just hoping and praying that the judges and the City of Chicago can get moving with the new field, because we would love to be at the new field this year.”
To learn more about the Southside Wolfpack and their spring season, visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/chisouthsidewolfpack.