Music was blaring and fans were on their feet cheering. The bleachers at Kennedy High School last week resembled a hip hop concert more than a football game. It was a bit of both as music icon Snoop Dogg, serving as head coach for the visiting team, came to Richmond to teach young men how to tackle some bigger challenges than just each other on the field.
The Richmond Steelers, an East Bay institution for 40 years, opened its 2015 season Sept. 12 against a squad from Pomona in Southern California. Both teams are part of the Snoop Dogg Youth Football League, which was founded by Snoop Dogg in the fall of 2005.
For the inaugural game, Snoop Dogg called plays for the Pomona team during the game, and after the game gave high fives to members of both teams, posing for photos and speaking words of encouragement. About 500 people showed up for the game, and parents waited in line to meet the entertainer.
“We wanted to bring football positivity … and show respect for the kids,” he said on the field. “You see here this is a peaceful gathering, and the whole community is here to have fun.”
Besides football, the Steelers’ coaches help students with their schoolwork and other challenges of growing up.
“For five months out of the year, we are a family. It’s indescribable. It’s amazing,” Jennifer Purifoy said, while her sons Khaleb, 13, and Marlin, 12, played on the field.
She said there is a direct interaction between family and coaches, which helps in many ways other than sports. “If there is a problem or issue in school, we tell the coaches, who have a different rapport with our sons,” she said.
Angela Dossman, the “discipline coach” for the Richmond team the past four years, said she uses her “tough stern voice” to make the kids want to listen. “I’m a mother and I understand the tough approach,” she said. “They’ll sometimes argue, and I stop them and teach them to love and respect one another. They call me auntie.”
The biggest match of the day was between two Pee Wee teams of 12-year-olds. The Richmond team was at a disadvantage from the start, with Snoop Dogg himself coaching the opposition. Richmond tried on several plays to break past an impenetrable Pomona defense, including a tackler who was over 20 pounds heavier than anyone on the Richmond Squad.
Nothing seemed to work. Richmond lost 51-0.
Although the knocks the young men took on the field on game day are rough, in real life the hits can be much harder on the streets, Richmond head coach Will Bryant said.
“Concrete don’t break,” he said. “When you hit the streets, you’re going to hit it hard.”
The team has lost several members to violence over the years, one of which was Fontino Hardy Jr., who died this summer in a shooting in Richmond. “We take this kids around the country to give them exposure, to let them see that the kids they compete against are no different than they are, and just to stay out of trouble,” Bryant said.
Steeler Ruben Terrell, 13, said he had friends and family members killed in the past few years, but he has managed to avoid falling victim to violence.
“Football kept me out of trouble,” he said.
Despite the challenges a lot of the players face, Bryant said he is optimistic about the future for Richmond students who are looking for a better life.
“You can find a bright light two hours out of every day and over the weekend at the local football field,” he said.