Building an inner city high school football program from scratch is neither easy nor cheap, something 28-year-old Paul Hobson realized the moment he set out to do so at Butler College Prep in Pullman.
"We realized this is very expensive," said Hobson, the school's athletic director. "We had to purchase everything from scratch. When we started looking at the prices of uniforms, we were kind of astounded because it was so extremely expensive, especially if you wanted to get quality stuff."
That money is not exactly just lying around the halls of the second-year charter school.
"We were trying to be creative in how we were going to maintain our sports and pay all of our coaches and things like that," Butler principal Christopher Goins said.
"Most schools, a lot of schools, charge $200, $250, $300 to play football," Hobson added. "We wouldn't be able to do that because our kids would never be able to afford that."
Now, thanks to a big assist donation from Boston-based nonprofit Good Sports and football equipment manufacturer Riddell, Hobson and Goins won’t have to worry about that.
Good Sports and Riddell teamed up to donate $20,000 worth of equipment to help Butler get its football program off the ground, including helmets, jerseys, pants and mouthguards—enough to outfit 30 kids.
"From a programmatic perspective, we were really interested in the work they were doing," Good Sports CEO Melissa Harper said. "Athletics was a core part of what they were trying to offer kids in the school and they didn't have the resources to do it, particularly the equipment they needed."
The donation will allow Butler to compete this fall in the Chicago Public League. Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Jessica Perez said via e-mail the school will field a team on the sophomore level that will play at least a five-game schedule. The team is expected to play its home games at nearby Gately Stadium.
Harper said Good Sports is hoping to triple the number of kids the company reaches in Chicago in the next three years, donating equipment so they can play any and all sports.
For Butler students such as Avery Davis and Justin Williams, it was exactly the kind of good news they spent all summer hoping to receive.
"I took it as a blessing, not just for myself but as a team and as a school," said Davis, a 16-year-old Roseland resident and a center on the team.
“It’s not like any other football equipment I’ve played with in the past, which was worn down, old from being used,” added Williams, a 15-year-old Englewood resident and wide receiver. “This is brand new. There’s not too many places with all this great equipment that we have at Butler.”
Hobson’s motivations for wanting to build a football program at Butler were two-fold.
As someone who grew up on the South Side, he wanted to provide other young men with exposure to positive role models. As an educator, he wanted his students to take some pride in their school.
“When kids are well-rounded, when schools are well-rounded, it boosts the morale past just getting the grades,” he said. “It gets people excited about coming to school, gets people excited about going to sporting events, things like that. That’s the type of environment that we want our kids to have.”
His players say the team is already having an impact on their lives, despite not having played a down yet.
Davis said it gives him an opportunity to be a more productive member of the community.
“I could be hanging out with friends and doing stuff that I shouldn’t be doing, but I’m doing something that is helpful for me, that’s helpful to the school,” he said. “Having a new sport, it gets everybody into school more because it’s another sport that we all know and love. When we come out as a football team, I think the school is going to be more excited for us.”
And while they may be the new kids on the block in the Public League, Williams is advising opponents not to sleep on the Lynx.
“Don’t nobody really know us, so they’re gonna expect us to be bad,” he said. “We believe we can beat other teams right now. All we have to do is practice.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” Hobson said. “[The players] know there’s going to be work to get there but as long as you work as hard as you possibly can, the best result will come out of it.”
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.