With the premature demise of the Mets and Yankees, the focus of the New York sports world now turns to football.
Gridiron fans in North Brooklyn who crave the game in its purest form can start following the Bushwick Wolfpack, a youth program that fields two teams spanning ages 10–16 that opened its season last Saturday.
Similar to how the New York Giants and Jets actually play in New Jersey, the “Bushwick” home designation is somewhat misleading: the Wolfpack play their games in Williamsburg’s Sternberg Park (Lorimer Street and Montrose Avenue). Their roster – there are around 60 players on both teams – includes players from both neighborhoods.
The Wolfpack originated in 2006, the brainchild of Bushwick resident Joe Ramos, an Air Force security reservist who coaches both the Pee Wee (ages 10-12) and Intermediate (13-16) teams.
“Back then it was just baseball and basketball in Bushwick. But a lot of kids wanted to play football, and there was no program for them,” said Ramos, 43, who also serves as the president of the Field of Dreams program, which has a baseball league.
The Wolfpack practices twice a week during the fall in Sternberg in preparation for their Saturday games against other city youth teams. For road games, the team packs up their equipment and takes the subway, barnstorming city-style.
Ramos believes the demanding, regimented nature of football presents a unique teaching opportunity for area youth.
“Football is totally different from baseball,” he said, channeling the late George Carlin.
“It’s more demanding and more physical. It’s about teamwork and discipline – it’s a good outlet for them. This isn’t only a sports program. We’re using it as an alternative to gangs and the streets.”
But Ramos insists his players carry the discipline of the football field into the classroom.
“We’re very, very strict when it comes to schoolwork and grades,” he said, adding that the program works in conjunction with tutors for students who struggle with academics. (Only youth who do not have football program at their schools are eligible to play.)
Youth football programs in low-income areas are often doomed by lack of funding. Even at wholesale rates, the cost of equipment – $70 for a helmet, $30 for shoulder pads, and $15 for pants – can get very expensive very quickly. While the fee for the Wolfpack is $125 per player, extra funds are needed to help support the many players whose parents cannot afford to pay.
Before the Wolfpack ever took the field in 2006, their first challenge was to raise $20,000, which they accomplished by selling t-shirts and soliciting donations on Bushwick Avenue and the corner of Cooper Avenue and Cyprus Street.
Going into this year, they had to raise an additional $8,000.
The need for funds will become more acute next year as the league grows to accommodate its skyrocketing demand. Ramos said there is already a 25-person waiting list for next year, when he plans to add a 16-19-year old team, a 7-8-year old team, and a 9-10 year-old team.
“It’s really catching on. People in Bushwick are really consumed with the Wolfpack. I’ll see people I don’t know on the street with Wolfpack t-shirts,” he said.
The Bushwick Wolfpack is perpetually looking for monetary donations or volunteer coaches. No coaching experience is necessary.
While registration for this season is closed, prospective players can register for next year.
To contact the Field of Dreams program, call 347-432-4278, or email fodbushwic