Javari Bates, now age 15, grew up on harsh streets of the city of Detroit where almost every day there is a story in the news about a child getting seriously hurt or dying due to the violence on the streets. Bates hasn’t always been known to make the best decisions, but feels that football have saved his life. When he was just five years old, Bates put on his first football jersey as a linebacker for the Northwest Lions.
“I was really nervous. I didn’t want to be the worse player on the team or get injured so I worked really hard with my dad,” he said. “At that time, he was my coach and as bad as I wanted to be the star of the team he wanted it more than me. Throughout the years there became plenty of times I wanted to quit but I couldn’t because I didn’t want to let my family down and because there wasn’t nothing better for me to do at the time.”
Bates is just one of the athletes who participates in the Police Athletic League, a nationwide organization for youth, founded in 1969, servicing more than 50,000 athletes, designed to keep children safe and off the streets, according to http://detroitpal.org/about/detroit-pal-history/.
Almost 15 years later the American Youth Football League started which is also nationwide, but gives athletes an opportunity to travel and compete with other teams across the country. Bates team moved to AYF, where they competed against teams from both the leagues. He won awards and honors playing in both leagues, and in his last year, he was awarded as the Brightmoor Seminoles MVP and also received recognition by PAL for his achievement over the years.
“I liked playing on AYF teams because it gave me the opportunity to travel outside of Michigan to compete and with PAL, we are limited to the Detroit area,” says Bates.
As a teenager, Bates lost friends to the streets of Detroit that weren’t old enough to obtain a work permit. “We always talked about how we would make it into the league together and be rich. In January of last year while skipping training camp he was shot and killed being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I was supposed to be there skipping with him but I went to camp” said Bates.
Programs like PAL and AYF were built for situations like that. It is unfortunate for someone to have lost their life making a bad decision, but it is also good to know that the program does work for the participants that are really focused on being a part of the program.
“Another one of my boys was in a situation similar to that and I was at practice that time too and it made me thankful for my life at that moment.” Bates admits that he had not always made the best decisions and that he knows what is right from wrong but being a part of the team has made a big difference in his life.
“Javari is not a bad kid and he is very talented, I was not sure what I was getting myself into signing my baby up for football but it was a decision that his dad and I made together. I wasn’t so much worried about his safety on the team because his dad was his coach, but as he got older playing football became a concern of mine,” stated Katherine Mumpfield, Javari’s mom.
Being a football star made Bates popular and not always in a good way. His mother started to worry about her son as he started attracting the wrong attention. Bates started getting into fights and loosing focus on what was more important. “I was worried that my son will start to hang out with the wrong crowd, or start to get himself into some trouble but football has really helped, that and him having coaches that care about him. When I heard about the kid that was shot all I could do was think about his mother and family and how that could have been me and my child. I see the change in Javari and his grades and his eagerness to want to play. Yes, he’s a young man that want to do things that other young men do, what I’ve seen is the growth and maturity in my son to want to do better and be better that he is learning in playing on the teams. They have to have a certain grade point average to play and even travel with the team, I like that because my son hate sitting on the bench he likes being the star he was born to be and he can’t be that and be dumb.”
PAL/AYF not only provides sports and fun for the children but also a brotherhood/sisterhood. The coaches are not only coaches but they are respected as leaders and mentor to their players. “Out of all my time playing my favorite coach was Coach Claude who is still my coach today. Other than my dad he took a special interest in me, and that is why I left my old high school and went to CODY, so that I can be on the team with him,” says Bates.
“I do feel that PAL and AYF is effective. I think that AYF is better because they check our grades more and we had the opportunity to travel. In PAL it was really just playing and having fun on the team the coaches were cool and I gained friendships but I learned the most and gained the best experiences playing with the AYF. I will definitely recommend this league to everyone, I can’t wait until my little brother is old enough to start playing and I can help coach him,” says Bates.