My school has competed against Camp Kilpatrick for years, but this year was the first time I personally had the opportunity to be on the field with them, and this was also the first year I had ever played soccer; therefore, the season was more than full of surprises. For those unaware or that are not familiar with Camp Kilpatrick, it is the juvenile detention center that inspired the film, ‘The Gridiron Gang’ from 2006.
My mom is pretty funny – every time she hears that my school is playing Kilpatrick, she goes to the home games and sits on their side and roots for them. This has kind of become a running joke at our school – the fact that my mom never knows which team is which and ends up cheering for the ‘other’ team – but she knows exactly who she’s cheering for when it’s Kilpatrick.
My school got to play the Mustangs three times for league. We won the first game 7-1, and as soccer goes there were some pretty intense and competitive moments on the field between our teams. During the play, as my Mom sat on the Kilpatrick side of the field, she learned from the coaches (whom are not actually coaches, but are actually the probation officers from the juvenile camp) that this very well may be the last season that the Kilpatrick athletes compete in, due to the pending and imminent closure of both their sports program and camp.
Our second game was actually even more intense than the first and my school happened to lose 4-2. There were some pretty hard feelings coming from our side but what our players didn’t know was that well before our defeat, in fact the night before, we had decided to surprise Kilpatrick with pizza and that both teams could spend a bit of time together off the field and maybe experience the differences between ourselves, but more importantly, discover our similarities as people and athletes.
At first the pizza party was a little on the reserved side of a party, yet at one point everything seemed to change. An athlete from our school and an athlete from Kilpatrick apparently were pretty ruthless with each other verbally during the match, at some point between bites of pizza and very small talk – the Mustang athlete recognized our guy and immediately came over to him and started a discussion – next thing we saw was these two adversaries hugging and smiling. Something amazing had happened. From that moment forward, the party started. we were all telling stories and jokes, we all have quite a bit in common, something that both teams were to talk about for days to come, most likely for years to come. We were comrades and were having a great time hanging out together. I actually think our party would have gone on and on, but at one point the probation officers told us that they had to get the boys back to camp. Before they did, one of the Kilpatrick athletes got up and explained to us why they were in the camp and why the sports program was so vital to them and let us know first hand that this was most likely their last season, that their track and baseball season had already been cancelled for the year.
The series of events that happened next were wild and inspiring, but began with the hugs and the high fives that we ended with that afternoon.
Our third and final game was ever-more emotional. The tone on the field was utterly amazing and I can say that we all felt like we were scrimmaging friends. There was a sense of total comradery. Everyone felt it, including the coaches and the parents that were watching. As God would have it, the game ended in a perfect tie: 2-2. It couldn’t have been better!! It was bitter-sweet as we and Kilpatrick knew that this would most likely be their last game, ever. As we traversed the field, our teams shook hands, then we all just broke into hugs together. My Mom and I had bought each player Father Greg’s book Tattoos on the Heart, and each of our players handed each of their players their gifts – it was an incredibly emotional moment. We also presented them a packet of petitions and letters that our team had worked on since the pizza party and we also told them of an online petition that we had started on their behalf and told them how many signatures that we had already raised. With an estimated total of over 400 hand-written signatures and nearly 900 online signatures, along with countless personalized letters opposing the camp and sports program’s closure, we showed the Mustangs that they were not alone in their fight to keep the athletics alive.
Stay tuned for our next blog post in a few days where we will tell you about a very personal and inspiring visit with all of the remaining members at Camp Kilpatrick. Until then, your signature would be greatly appreciated on our petition HERE to save the sports program for not only all of the boys at Camp K, but for those of us that have had the great fortune to be on the field with fellow athletes that are teaching us how to play even when all the cards are against them.