One current San Francisco 49er player and two retired Niners surprised about 50 local at-risk youth and juvenile offenders July 19 at Community Park in Morgan Hill. The professional athletes’ appearance was part of the Probation-Community Athletic League flag football program.
The special visit was made possible by a recent partnership between the Santa Clara County Probation Department and 49ers PREP Youth Flag Football, which provide uniforms and equipment to the Pro-Com’s flag football league.
An objective for the Pro-Com Athletic League—which also collaborated with the South County Youth Task Force and Empowering Our Community For Success—is to establish positive interactions between members of law enforcement and those in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities as well as providing a safe, fun and competitive environment for all.
“I was always part of (the 49ers youth program) when I was still playing. It’s a lot of fun,” said former 49ers defensive lineman Ian Williams, who grew up in Florida and was positively impacted by professional athletes with the Orlando Magic during junior camps in the other sunshine state. “It gave me something to aspire to be.”
Williams, now working with NBC Bay Area and 95.7 The Game, was joined by former 49ers defensive lineman Dennis Brown, who was part of the Super Bowl XXIX Championship Team, and current offensive lineman Ben Garland, who is one of the newest 49ers after coming over from the Atlanta Falcons.
“It’s just great to see the kids out here playing football and enjoying themselves and not worrying about the other things going on in their lives,” added Williams as he watched one of the two flag football games going on at Community Park. “If there’s one thing I try to get across to them, it is to live in the right-now and enjoy life just as you enjoy sports.”
That is the very essence of the Pro-Com Athletic League, a sports and activities program operating out of the Juvenile Probation Department that focuses on providing under-served youth (ages 11-19), who are at risk for gang and criminal involvement, with opportunities to play sports.
The trio of 49ers in attendance introduced themselves to all the participants, cheered them on with words of encouragement during their flag football games and then led them through some basic drills.
In one game July 19 were older teens who either are currently incarcerated at the William F. James Boys Ranch in Morgan Hill or serving out their probation sentencing. They all wore black and white reversal jerseys, purposely chosen with no red or blue gang-affiliated colors.
“(Pro-Com) gives kids an opportunity to play sports like if they were attending a normal high school,” said Mariel Caballero, Deputy Director Probation Administration. “This league gives them that opportunity to have a normal high school experience.”
The Pro-Com Athletic League has been in existence for more than a decade, but this is the first year it has offered competitive flag football and the partnership with the 49ers, according to Caballero, who called it “one of the best violence prevention programs” in the county.
Jennifer Daughenbaugh, a Deputy Probation Officer and the Pro-Com’s program director, added that many of the participants—many coming from immigrant families from throughout Santa Clara County—“never touched a football or played football” prior to their involvement in the program. The league is run out of the Probation Department and fits within their focus on intervention, suppression and prevention.
“We want them to know that law enforcement is here for them and we care about them and we want to help them,” said Daughenbaugh, who stressed the importance of peace officers developing positive interactions with at-risk youth in low-income communities.
Nezam Etemadi, manager with 49ers PREP Youth Flag Football, was on hand Friday afternoon with other staff to assure everything went smoothly for what he called a “Prep Day” between the 49ers and youth participants.
“We provide the equipment and everything they need to run a successful, turn-key flag football league. We provide hands-on training as well,” said Etemadi, sharing that the 49ers are part of 37 flag football leagues, including Pro-Com, that include nearly 3,000 participants from Sacramento to the Bay Area. “We’ve had a lot of kids who never played any kind of sports. This is their entrance into familiarizing themselves with football in general.”
In another game July 19 on an adjacent makeshift field at Morgan Hill Community Park, Danny Chavez of Empowering Our Community For Success kept a close eye on the action involving younger kids who mostly reside at the nearby Park Place Apartments (formerly known as Village Avante). Assisting with the Youth Task Force, Chavez met the families about a year ago and wanted to set up a program for the children.
“I wanted to do something with the kids before they get into trouble,” said Chavez, who also works at Boynton Continuation School in San Jose where he got involved with Pro-Com. “If we can get the kids doing something positive, we can use up their energy and show them that people care about them. I think probation and police (officers) get a bad rap.”
Chavez said he hopes to expand the program in the future to hold soccer and basketball leagues for at-risk youth.
“If they have nothing to do, they are going to get in trouble. They are a product of their environment with drugs, alcohol and gangs exposing them to things,” Chavez added. “This is such a beautiful program.”