PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Gun violence remains an issue in Portsmouth, and through the lens of some families, they say they have witnessed it and are ready to see change. One man is on a mission to keep kids off the street, using his youth football league to keep them on a positive path.
It's a situation that has been punted down the field for a while now. Coaches say they practice on the football field known as "The Pines," but parents say this football league is playing a critical role for their kids.
"The kids out here, they can either be football players or they can be out there in the next shooting, victim or shooter," said Mary Simms, a local mother.
Youth football coach Jeshuan Snipes knows what it's like to live with those challenges.
"I know I've been through things growing up. You know, to be honest, I'm a convicted felon and I decided to come home and change myself, to do better for the kids," Snipes said.
He's starting with mentorship. As cleats plow across the grass in the football field, it's more than just a sport. Snipes' mission is to help kids escape from violence in Portsmouth.
"I see a lot of these young dudes out here that be passing away and I watched them grow up, and I don't want to see my kids go through it or their friends. So, I feel like if we grab them at a young age - from 6 or 5 years old - we can stop a lot of the violence," said Snipes.
The youth football league is called the Blackhawks. Snipes and other coaches were rooted in Chesapeake but then decided to come back to their hometown after hearing input from families about needing more programs within the city.
A foster mom of five boys, Simms said her children are at a age where they can be at risk, leading her to have her sons join the Blackhawks for further mentorship.
"We have to make Portsmouth kid-friendly, and right now, I don't see it being kid-friendly," said Simms.
With a team of many players and parents as supporters, Snipes said he just needs more coaches and support from city leaders, especially when it comes to funding.
"We really want to make it so that the parents that can't afford it can still bring the kids out," said Snipes.
City leaders have heard their request and are extending a helping hand.
"The population that they're going to reach is going to be different from some of the other organizations that we have in this city, so I want to make sure that they're able to serve the children. In our city right now, we need those types of coaches and people who love the kids," said Portsmouth Vice Mayor De'Andre Barnes.
So far, the coaches have raised more than $8,000 for the team. That money will go towards equipment, travel cost for games and more uniforms.
If you're interested in signing your child up for the Blackhawks, you can contact the coach at Snipesjeshaun@gmail.com.