By Edgar Mendez
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
After two years without baseball, football and other summer athletic programs at Journey House due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the youth leagues are up and running this year or will be soon.
Michele Bria, the longtime CEO at Journey House, a South Side nonprofit located in the Clarke Square neighborhood, said the organization expects to engage several hundred youths this summer in what leaders describe as “outdoor classrooms.”
“These programs are about education first and foremost,” said Bria, adding that participants are expected to have a library card, write a book report and be responsible in school. “How you behave in school is just as important as how you behave on the field.”
About 180 youths participate in the center’s Felix Mantilla Little League, which plays its games at Baran Park, 2600 S. Chase Ave.
Martin Weddle, director of youth programs at Journey House, located at 2110 W. Scott St., said football programming will begin on July 11 with a free two-week clinic.
During that clinic, which will be held at the nearby Journey House Packers Stadium at Mitchell Park, youths will gain fundamental-skills training, conditioning, life skills among other benefits.
“The only thing participants need is 32 ounces of water and athletic apparel,” Weddle said.
Registration is open for the program, which serves third through eighth graders and is part of the Wisconsin All-American Youth Football League, or AAYFL. The first official practice is scheduled for Aug. 1.
Weddle said youth athletic programs at Journey House focus on six core components, each highlighted during a weekly theme. One is education and athletics while another is character and life skills.
In terms of building character and life skills, Weddle said it includes creating a culture of accountability and teaching children how to address challenges such as anxiety and trauma.
“If you’re stressed out and enduring trauma it’s hard for you to go to the field and perform,” he said. “We have adopted this culture of peace and stress management and teach breathing practices that help.”
One of the people helping youths master such techniques is LouRawls Burnett, a SKY meditation, yoga instructor and basketball coach at Journey House. Burnett said SKY is a breathing technique that helps bring the body to meditation.
“Breathing can affect our decisions, our thoughts and our actions,” said Burnett, who first came to Journey House to participate in programs when he was 12 years old.
In addition to the football and baseball leagues, Journey House also plans to host a soccer and lacrosse clinic this summer, youth pompom camp in July and a dance camp in August. It is also recruiting youths to participate in a weekly Meditation, Agility, Speed and Strength, or MASS, camp.
With the exception of a basketball program that ran during the school year in partnership with Longfellow School, which is adjoined to Journey House, all formal athletic programs were shut down in 2020 and 2021. This necessitated a big recruitment push this year to get youths reengaged.
“I’ve traveled to over 25 area schools, distributed 3,500 flyers and held 18 parent orientation meetings,” Weddle said.
The ultimate goal of the athletic programs is to support the organization’s mission to end generational poverty, Bria said. Sports accomplishes this by helping youths learn strong values and building their character.
“Then whatever career pathway you choose, you’re passionate about and committed and more likely to be successful,” she said. “Athletics is a great way to move towards high performance.”
How to participate
You can register for all summer programs at Journey House here.