Northwest Raiders youth program hopes Council honor creates more support

After a winter that saw the Northwest Raiders’ Pop Warner football team play in the national-championship game, City Council honored its athletic association on Thursday for more than four decades of working with youths in Northwest Philadelphia.

Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass presented a resolution (PDF) to association board member Renee Tarpley, football coach Duane Watson and other volunteers from the non-profit organization.

Based out of the Lonnie Young Recreation Center in East Germantown, the Northwest Raiders program offers football, cheerleading, track-and-field, basketball, baseball and dance programs to an estimated 400-plus children between the ages of five and 18 annually.

“At a time when, in our city, our young people go out and we worry that they may never come back, it’s important that we recognize those people doing great things, taking time out of their busy schedules to provide a positive outlet,” Bass said.

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Four decades of service

The Raiders organization was established in 1971 at a time when “concerned adults” wanted to provide alternatives to the streets.

Among the noted participants are former Temple Owl and Philadelphia 76ers player Aaron McKie and current University of Pennsylvania basketball coach Jerome Allen.

Another alum, Tarpley’s son Kevin Burwell, plays basketball for Mississippi Valley State University. He made headlines earlier this month for “taunting” President Barack Obama at an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game.

Both Tarpley and Watson said they were honored by the attention from City Council, but hope the attention extends beyond a single meeting in City Hall.

As in, it would be ideal if a little bit of attention today turns into better facilities and more support for their volunteers in the future; they hope tireless efforts are someday matched by quality facilities to continue the programs.

“We’re onto our next goal of trying to obtain a playing field,” Tarpley said in Council Chambers.

Better facilities

Watson noted that they had played their “home” football games at Central High School in the past, but that relationship ended several years ago.

Martin Luther King High School allows the use of their current field, but that each time he passes one at LaSalle University – a school without a football team – he imagines it as true home field. (La Salle graciously allows them to use the track at that same site, though.) There are other schools with fields as well, but as a non-profit volunteer-based organization, they can’t afford to pay to use them.

When it comes to baseball, they have two fields near Lonnie Young Rec Center, but only one has working lights and the others don’t work all the time.

“We’ve seen programs come along and in five, 10 years, get access to better facilities than we have,” Watson pointed out. “But, we’re still here and still doing it. Hopefully, today will help get word out.”

To that end, Bass spokesman Joe Corrigan said that Thursday afternoon was “the first we’re hearing of this, and we’d be glad to work with them, to find them a space to play.”

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