CINCINNATI — If life had a playbook, it could likely have been written on the field at Walnut Hills High School on Saturday afternoon.
The Cincinnati United Youth Football & Cheer League held its 2023 season championships at the venue with more than 4,000 in attendance over the course of the day.
Deon Brooks II coached the Mount Healthy team of 11- and 12-year-olds to a victory.
“This is family. This is what we do,” he said. “We want to make sure those guys are leaders, not only in between the lines, but in the community and in the classroom as well.”
Last year, Brooks said the team lost by two points. While holding this year’s trophy, he said he told his team that it is proof that they can overcome adversity when they work at it.
“We want them to understand that, when you make mistakes, you gotta own up to it,” the coach said. “It doesn't mean that everything is over.”
While the team that has the most points at the end of the game wins, coaches say success in the program has a lot less to do with what actually happens on the field.
Pastor Peterson Mingo has been involved in youth sports for 32 years. He said this year’s coaches in the program are some of the best he’s seen, and he’s not talking about their football skills.
“They act as surrogate parents for a lot of the kids who come from single-family homes,” Mingo said. “They teach their kids about discipline, teach them about cooperation.”
As city leaders debate how to address youth violence, Mingo urges them to keep their eye on the ball. He said coaches build up a lot of “street credibility” with their teams, which has a ripple effect as kids rise through the ranks.
“Farther down the line, they're gonna need what they learn here,” Mingo said.
The pastor said it's important for the program to start at a young age — some of the players in the tackle football games are as young as five years old.
“You can mold them before the world starts working on chiseling them away,” he said. “They’ll turn out to be better people, happier people. And they can encourage others.”
The coaches, who volunteer their time, say love is emphasized as a priority throughout their teams. “We make it feel like home,” said Keon Roberson, who coaches the Evanston Bulldogs, who are 8-years-old and younger.
In the end, Coach Brooks said it's not about winning the trophy, even if the players may see it that way: “These guys are going to be better because of the coaching that they were able to get.”