“Yo, is it true about Kameron?” Vick Davis asked the other coaches when he arrived at Brownsville’s Betsy Head Park on a Monday evening in early June.
It was, replied Chris Legree, head coach of the Mo Better Jaguars youth football program. Kameron had been killed the previous Friday. He had been shot a few blocks away from the park. He was 22-years-old.
See also our November feature story on Brownsville’s Mo Better Jaguars youth football program: One Foot on the Turf, One Foot on the Streets
The coaches shook their heads. They remembered Kameron well. He had joined the team when he was six and played for several years. He was an offensive lineman.
There were many kids on the team who the coaches worried about, kids known to spend much time on the streets. Kameron was not one of those kids they worried about.
“His mom was real strict” said Davis. “It’s the neighborhood, man. You can be a good kid, but when you stick around the neighborhood, and end up hanging out outside, if something goes down, suddenly you’re associated and involved.”
Davis and Legree looked across the field. A dozen or so small boys played touch football, waiting for practice to start. “We can’t protect ’em once they leave here,” said Legree.
Three days later, Legree was at the funeral. Legree hoped every funeral would be his last, but there had been too many funerals to have much faith in that hope.
And, in fact, barely four weeks later another of his former players was killed. On eve of the 4th of July, “Poppa” was shot to death in Crown Heights. He had played at Mo Better for nearly a decade. His two brothers had also played for the program. Poppa had helped lead the program to championships in his day, and like all the kids who came through Mo Better, he had remained part of the family.
At the end of a Saturday afternoon practice, two days after Poppa’s death, Legree gathered his players to tell them the news.
“How old was he?” asked one player.
“He was 19,” said Legree.
The team then held a moment of silence for Poppa, whose girlfriend was seven months pregnant with their child.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 7, 2014