Practice officially started on Wednesday for the Southside Raiders, the Madison area’s proudest youth sports organization. The Raiders are entering their 48th year as a staple of Madison’s south side and, according to Coach Jesse Evans, turnout and expectations are high.
“We had about 60 kids at practice on Wednesday,” Evans told Madison365. “We had a lot of returning kids. Everyone’s pretty excited. We’re excited about being back at Penn Park and back at home.”
Last season the Raiders played at Quann Park while their usual home field of Penn Park was being renovated. Now that the renovation is complete, the Raiders are back on their home turf and Evans expects that to boost participation. Penn Park is more visible to people as they travel by and see kids having fun participating in football.
Having coached the team for more than a decade, Evans said that the values the program instills in the kids who participate are what keeps him going more than anything else.
“Our goal is to help kids build character as people,” Evans said. “It is to build strong character people and have an impact on education.”
The Raiders have for decades been helpful getting kids to focus on things like teamwork, self-esteem, academics and safety. Those values have resonated with participants, parents, teachers and coaches. Evans said that he sees high school coaches from the area around Raiders games all the time because coaches know that they’ll be high-quality kids they can trust to be part of their programs as high schoolers.
“I think the Raiders have a huge impact on the city one way or another and a big impact on high school football. We don’t steer players towards any particular schools but we have coaches who definitely want Raiders players,” Evans said. “I think the main part of it is they know we have a good program and instill good values into the kids which translates into the high school level.”
Many of the Raiders alumni have continued their football careers well after high school. Players like Jeff Mack or Tyrone Braxton are people who went through the Raiders program and then had success in high school, college and even went to the NFL. Mack can still be spotted around the Raiders from time to time. Last year he told Madison365 that he often tells people he’s a Raider before anything else about himself.
That’s sort of how Jesse Evans feels.
“One thing I’ve noticed is being part of the Raiders is a big sense of pride for the community,” he says. “It seems like a lot of people in Madison played for the Raiders or had a child of theirs play for the Raiders. It’s a sense of pride, especially when we’re talking about youth football.”
Even though the Raiders held their first practice on Wednesday, their season won’t start until just before Labor Day. Any families who still want to participate are definitely able to join. Evans expects more kids to be streaming in during the next few weeks especially now that the team is back on the south side around Penn Park. Evans says parents can expect an emphasis on teaching kids how to play the game safely as well.
“We’re still here after 50 years,” Evans told Madison365. “I’m proud to be part of this organization. There’s no other organization I’d rather be with.”