After threats by Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper to shutdown the Allegheny County Midget Football League in response to a Homewood shooting Aug. 15, leaders of the league and team coaches banded together to find a solution.
“I understand that justice has to be served, but the kids are not the problem. I understand the chief has to take a stand somewhere. I can see his viewpoint, but a lot of these people in these organizations volunteer 30 hours a week,” said Jose Regus, league president. “It’s not like this was the only incident. It’s just the only incident that was by the youth.”
|FATHER FIGURES—From left: Coaches Monte Robinson and Ayodeji Young respond to the shooting that occurred during their team’s game.
By 8 p.m., following a meeting with the football league and anonymous information from members of the community, Harper decided to stand down.
Although Regus believes the threat “might’ve put the pressure on some people to want to do the right thing,” he said the meeting between police and the league was ultimately what led to Harper’s decision to pardon the football league.
During the meeting, the two groups decided on a short-term plan to increase security at football games in the form of off-duty police officers. It is not yet clear where the funding to pay these officers will come from, but Regus believes it will be a joint partnership between the league and the Department of Parks and Recreation.
“We have had off-duty police officers in the past. We’ve received funding for it in the past,” said Regus. “The funding wasn’t really available so it’s been each individual team’s responsibility to provide security.”
“This is the only positive thing this city has and it’s not even sponsored by the city. It’s good competition, it’s wholesome, it’s healthy. We can’t let one or two bad apples ruin what is a viable community entity,” said Jeff Marion, league coach. “We’ve come to the conclusion that we need to step up our game. We will be patrolling the perimeter better.”
“We probably need more of a presence outside of the gates,” said Homewood coach Monte Robinson. “(This league is) the heartbeat of the neighborhood. We can make it a safe haven for our kids, but there’s an element of our environment that exists.”
Despite the resolution, nothing could save Harper from the backlash he experienced earlier in the day when he was confronted by parents and coaches of children in the league.
“If I feared the organization in any way shape or form, I would not have brought my kids here,” said Lois West-Griffin, who was doing security at the game. “These coaches are like fathers to these kids. I live in Verona. I drive to Homewood for my son to play football. It’s not a neighborhood thing, it’s a community thing. Don’t penalize the entire organization.”
West-Griffin and other adults at the game said they did their best to protect the children as soon as they heard the gunshots, first believed to be fireworks.
“We just instructed everyone to get down and after it stopped we went into recovery mode. It was the last game of the day. Everything was going smooth,” said Ayodji Young, a league coach. “If you want Homewood football to exist, we need everyone to step up to the plate.”
Youths who attended the press conference were disappointed when faced with the prospect of their football league being shut down. Even those not involved felt it would have a negative impact on the community.
“It’s not right to cancel something. I don’t think the younger kids should have their dreams ruined because of older kids,” said Anna Good, 18. “If they take away football from the younger kids, they’re going to become criminals.”