Ten years ago, Cliff Smith shared an idea with his friend and fellow youth football coach Torme Deveauxbray. It was a dream really. Cliff was going to return to the neighborhood where he grew up, and start a football program for the kids of West Philadelphia. In 2010 Smith recruited a small but mighty team of friends, family, and coaches to make his dream a reality. The Parkside Saints were born.
Since then the league has become a part of the fabric of the Parkside community. Despite its growing reputation, until this week, the Saints were a football league without a field. Teams practiced on open patches of grass in Fairmount Park, and held games in other parts of town.
The years of waiting came to an end last week. The Saints joined Mayor Jim Kenney and Councilman Curtis Jones to open a new multi-sport athletic field along Parkside Avenue. The Parkside Evans field was the first Rebuild project to start construction last year. The practice field is the first phase of the project. Next up is a second, game-ready field, complete with stadium lighting and bleachers.
After years of advocating, Coach Smith, the players, and their families were excited to see the Saints’ vision realized.
Erving Henderson and William McBride, seniors at nearby Kipp DuBois Collegiate Academy, have been playing for the Saints for four years, and are grateful the younger players won’t have to travel just to practice and play ball. “We are here to support, because even though we’re on our way out, the young Saints coming up behind us now have a place to call home.”
Like so many youth sports organizations in Philadelphia neighborhoods, the Parkside Saints is not just a football program. It is a youth empowerment and mentoring organization.
“Football, dance, and cheer are the way in for many of the kids, but they stay because we are a family. With the after school program, the travel, and the competitions, we do it all to keep our kids safe and off the streets. Our coaches give these kids the confidence to strive for their goals, both on and off the field,” said Coach Smith.
Made possible by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax, Rebuild is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in neighborhood parks, recreation centers, and libraries. Of the 64 approved Rebuild sites, two thirds are in high needs neighborhoods.