For nearly five decades the Southside Raiders have been the face of youth football in the Madison area’s African American community. Generation after generation of boys and girls have had the benefit of mentoring, life skills training and character building hard knocks out on the football field. Entering its 47th season, the Southside Raiders organization is both celebrating the past while keeping a concerned eye on the future.
“The Raiders have a long-standing history in the community,” said Raiders Co-Director Wayne Strong. “So there’s a sense of pride in what we have accomplished. We emphasize good sportsmanship, education. That’s really the emphasis of our program.”
The Raiders provide one football team for each grade level from fourth through eighth grade. Last season approximately 90 kids participated. With that many kids, Strong said the Raiders are looking to add more coaches and volunteers.
“We try to have at least four coaches for each grade level,” he said. “And if the staff is larger than that, that’s fine too. As long as it’s a good, cohesive group. Right now it’s open. Whoever we get, we’ve got plenty of areas where we need help. Even if it isn’t actually coaching we need help setting up equipment, setting up the field, things like that. We just want to add coaches to fill up some voids. The more the merrier.”
Youth football has certainly faced an uphill battle in recent years. With the growing pressures and concerns over concussions and head trauma, every youth football program across the country has seen participation numbers take a bit of a slide recently. Parents have voiced concerns about safety and have frankly wavered in many cases about letting their kids play football.
Strong understands the concerns but says the Raiders take absolutely every possible measure to provide the safest possible environment to help these kids learn.
“Our numbers are down a little bit due to concussions or parents not feeling like it is safe,” Strong said. “But we take precautions to make sure kids are being kept safe and monitor for concussions. The safety thing is huge. Numbers are shrinking across youth football. Hopefully we can alleviate those fears.”
The tragedy of the dip in Youth Football numbers can’t be overstated. At a time when things like youth incarceration and gun violence have been front page issues, football has a role to play in steering youth away from those things. The structure and discipline provided by coaches to kids has given thousands of kids the life skills needed to make good choices.
“Our coaches are expected to be role models,” Strong said. “What’s important is that the kids see the best of us. That means coaches are respectful to other coaches, parents are respectful to other parents. For me, integrity is the most important thing. I don’t think you have to have a ton of experience. Every coach begins somewhere. But I look for integrity, the willingness to wanna help kids, and the ability to mentor kids.”
The Raiders have had a long legacy of success in steering kids towards adulthood using the model of those values. Strong points to Southside Raiders alum Tyrone Braxton as a key example of how successful the program can help someone be.
Braxton, who grew up in Madison, played for the Raiders before going receiving a full scholarship to North Dakota State. He wound up in the NFL where he was a Pro-Bowl defensive back who won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos. He went on to earn his master’s degree in social work.
Strong said Braxton’s ascent was just one of many different paths the Raiders have helped steer kids towards. While education is a staple of the values they preach, it is not the only way Strong has seen kids succeed following being part of the program.
“We’re proud of our alumni who have gone through and gone on to college,” Strong said. “I’d say our college rate is pretty good. But some kids have just gone out and gotten jobs, so that’s being successful too. Not every kid is prepared to go to college and so there’s other avenues to pursue. That may not be for everybody. We want to make sure that every kid knows their options whether it’s pursuing a trade or going to college. We encourage kids to look outside the box.”
Having served with the Raiders organization for 25 years, Strong says he is looking for new leaders to join the organization and help continue the traditions the Raiders embody.
The Raiders open up the 2017 season on August 1 at 4:30pm at Quann Park. Quann Park is a new venue for the Raiders, who previously have been playing at Penn park. Strong says that there is construction and renovation happening at the old venue, so he hopes to see as many kids and new mentors as possible at Quann on August 1.
“This is a pivotal year for us and I’m anxious to get the season under way,” he said.
Strong urges anyone with interest in being a coach or mentor, or anyone who just wants to help with equipment and other needs to contact the Southside Raiders at 608-443-8224.