Will Smith and a group of his friends and family spent a lot of 1962 just tossing around a football, “not knowing anything about all the X and O’s.” He describes himself as a “football addict” who only wanted for him and his pals to have the “real technical football life.”
That summer, 14 boys — Phillip Smith, David Barlow, Scott Barlow, Russell Barlow, Joe James, Alvin Henderson, Larry Horton, Billy White, John Moncrief, Mark Mills, Don Judd, Ray (Bubba) Hart, Ed Hill and Jim Hill — joined Will Smith in pickup games. Using only flour to create yard lines, and no equipment except for cloth tape to make numbers on there, this team of young men made it their destiny to be a part of a league, to feel included, and to have the full football experience.
Those backyard games would become a Madison institution — the Southside Raiders.
“It wasn’t really a Madison team, it was the South Side, a community team,” Smith says.
One significant reason Smith founded the Raiders was that there weren’t any programs in the community that catered to football, and that were easily accessible or inexpensive. With limited materials compared to the other teams in the league at the time, such as Wingra and Glenn Stephens, the Raiders and many members of the community helped by sponsoring the team. Even the Badgers pitched in, once donating old cleats to the Raiders players. The team got donations from places like Park Bank, and local barber shops fundraised by doing things such as bake sales and pep rallies. Smith says that today, “the community support is not the same. I don’t see how they get the community involved. That’s a must.”
In 1970, Will was working at the Boys and Girls Club and received a $5,000 grant from the club’s director to put towards his youth team, which gave the team a big boost in equipment. By 1977, the Southside Raiders had a cheerleading team, which today still pays homage to those chants and cheers composed 40 years ago. By 1982, players from fifth through ninth grade played in cohesion at the South Madison Neighborhood Center which today is called The Boys and Girls Club.
Will and his teammate David Barlow began carrying on the legacy, coaching others in what they’d created. With both Will and David being only high schoolers and playing football themselves to successfully do both, they had to alternate times coaching. After winning the league championship in their first year as coaches, Barlow focused on his own football career while Smith decided to continue with the Raiders, evidently sacrificing his high school football career. He coached until 1990.
From 1970-1990, had lots of success. The Raiders never lost a game from 1980-82, going almost 3 years undefeated. Also, they won championships in 1970, 1971, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, and 1990.
Even after being this successful for 20 years, they had no home field. The Raiders played at Penn Park, Franklin Field, Goodlin Park, and sometimes at what today is Lincoln Elementary’s field. Finally, by the early 1990s, they settled in at Penn Park as their home field. It would’ve been earlier, but Smith stated that there were light poles that hadn’t been removed yet.
Terrell Carey, who played for the Raiders eight years ago as a 4th grader, talks about how playing for the team has influenced his life and current football career at the Division I University of Northern Iowa, where he will be a wide receiver beginning in the 2017 season.
Carey says that the Raiders impact comes from the “great coaches I met and the best friends who I now call my brothers.”
Being from Madison’s southside was also very significant to Terrell’s football career with the Raiders. “The raiders played such a big impact on my life because the south side where I was born and raised was where we could bring our community together as one, and enjoy football, and play for the love of the game,” he says.
Not only did the Southside Raider community impact his love for football, it taught him essential life morals.
“The coaches that I had taught me loyalty, respect and hard work. To this day I believe that I use those three things to the best of my ability and display them in my everyday basis. The Raiders helped me mature as a young man in a kids body,” he says.
With the coaches encouraging Terrell to work hard while still creating a caring support system, he was taught perseverance and dedication, something that he himself continues to pass down to other generations to come.
“The Raiders made me realize, and the coaches I had gave me the passion to help kids and be the people around me”, he says. The loyalty and bond built between the team meant a lot to not only Carey, but his prior teammates who now feel like family.
The Southside Raiders weren’t just about football to Terrell and other teammates. “Brotherhood meant a lot to us and ever since that, it made me want to help everyone in the way that I can on the field or off it. To this day, I thank the Raiders for everything.”
Not only has the Raiders encouraged aspiring athletes, it has produced some NFL players. Will Smith had the opportunity of coaching Tyrone Braxton, who played in two Superbowls for the Denver Broncos, as well as New England Patriots linebacker Tim Jordan. Saint Louis Rams wide receiver Derek Stanley also played for the Raiders, though after Smith’s time.
The importance of this team in the community digs deeper than just football. It’s about unity within the community.
“Kids need to be kept busy,” says Smith. He believes that football is a way to keep children out of trouble. Defeating stereotypes was a must. Without football, “the community probably would just be known for going to boys school and people getting incarcerated,” he says.
“My dad will always would tell me I don’t spend enough time making myself better”, he said. Who would’ve know that giving up playing football in order to provide the opportunity to others would leave a footprint this big.
I Am Madison is funded by Madison Community Foundation as part of its Year of Giving.