The mantra Play Ball! goes by is “Getting more feet on the field.” Harney had that chance throughout his middle school and high school careers. He went to Concord-Carlisle High School, where he starred in lacrosse.
Harney, 32, went on to play lacrosse at Georgetown and after graduating, moved back home to live in Charlestown and work in Boston. As the youngest of seven kids, Harney took every opportunity he could to play sports.
“For me it was just such a big part of what I remember growing up,” he said. “I played every sport they let me. You look back and you love having something to do every day after school. That’s what we’re trying to replicate here.”
Even while juggling his personal life and work in finance, Harney always finds time to work on making Play Ball! more successful. It all circles back to why he started the charity.
“It’s about (the kids) exercising, it’s about them having fun, it’s about them learning, it’s about handling adversity, teamwork,” said Harney. “There are a million different reasons that I can come up with about why it makes sense (to have the charity), but I can’t come up with one why it doesn’t make sense.
“Ultimately, when I see a football field I see a classroom. And I see an opportunity for these kids to learn. I think those lessons are important as any.”
Now Harney is making sure kids in the Boston public middle schools have the same chance to learn and spend afternoons enjoying and playing sports like he did during his youth in Concord.
There’s much to learn
Teamwork is one of the important life lessons that Play Ball! tries to teach. On an early September afternoon at Ross Field in Hyde Park, a group of students trying out for Rogers’ football team saw that very attribute exemplified by one of the school’s eighth graders.
Kids are constantly taking water breaks and gulping down their gallon water jugs. The coaching staff stressed hydration to the students at the beginning of tryouts. Some of the white T-shirts on the kids stick to their skin, already drenched from walking to the field from school. The sun beats down on Ross Field and the dry grass seems to sizzle.
The intense heat circulating around Boston that day didn’t put off one of the middle schoolers. It only fueled the amount of energy he would bring to the field. And on the second day of tryouts, quarterback Tyrese Myers saw a teammate struggling with a drill. Knowing his classmate wants to make the team badly, he put it upon himself to help.
“Come on,” he yelled. “You can get there! Come on!
“Almost there! Now get there!”
Myers, a captain, is arguably the smallest player when it comes to physical size on his team. But the passion and effort Myers brings to tryouts epitomizes what Play Ball! is trying to teach.
Wearing red shorts and a black Under Armour shirt, Myers was one of eight players chosen by co-head coach Steve Cahill to lead a warmup line. All but one of the 83 kids trying out, ranging from grades 6 to 8, have completed the bear crawls.
During the warmup, one of the biggest kids trying out is gasping for air as he extends his arms and legs, one at a time, towards the line. His white T-shirt is sopping wet and his breathing can be heard from 20 feet away. He’s determined to make it, though.
Exercising for more than 15 minutes looks far beyond this particular student’s athletic ability, but Myers – who sprinted almost 40 yards across four separate lines just to get in this player’s face – won’t let him give up.
“One more!” he yells at the kid, who aimlessly flings his arms forward onto the dirt. Reaching the line is all that matters at this moment.
When the kid reaches the line, he lies on his back sucking in all the air he can. Myers gets on all fours and pounds his right fist into the ground and yells some more.
“That’s it, man! That’s it!”
Of the kids trying out – including four girls – Myers is a mile ahead of the others at this moment in the categories of vocal energy and spunk.
Soon enough, the players start another drill. This time they’re splitting up into groups and working on the ladder. Myers’ effort to help another didn’t go unnoticed, though.
Cahill and Shavis can’t keep all 83 on the team, or even half of that number. The final roster is capped at 35.
“It’s reality,” says Cahill, sighing. “I would take every one of these kids if I could. Last year we took on 36 and we got all of them some good time on the field.
“I get my starters, and then I get whoever fits into the uniforms we have.”
Teamwork is something that Cahill and the other coaches strive to teach. But it’s not the only important aspect of being a student-athlete that these middle schoolers learn to embrace. Being on a team teaches students many lessons. But ahead of football’s fundamentals, there’s a need for academics in the Boston public schools to be addressed.Continued...