Photo by Xavier Boone.

Football season is in full effect and the Lincoln High School Lions are No. 1 in it’s “Patriot Red” division while the Union City High School Soaring Eagles are No. 6 in the state for the 2023-2024 season. 

Both teams met on the field on Oct. 7 at Caven Point. The Soaring Eagles recorded their third shut out of the season, beating the Lions 35-0. A tough loss mid-season but the Lions’ would then go on a three-game win streak against Hoboken, Orange and Warren Hills in the NJSIAA Tournament, quarterfinal round, effectively finishing the season with a 7-3 record.

This year was special for the Soaring Eagles; their head coach celebrated 100 career wins on the same night the team beat out Phillipsburg High School for the Sectional Championship title, a first in Union City High School history. 

Union City is at the hub of Hudson County, one of NJ’s most diverse counties, which has produced talent for the world to witness.

Before closing their doors, Jersey City’s Saint Anthony High School garnered basketball talents like NBA Minnesota Timberwolves Kyle Anderson; former Los Angeles Laker David Rivers; former Los Angeles Clipper Terry Dehere; former Houston Rocket Rodrick Rhodes; former Atlanta Hawk Roshown McLeod; and founder of Jersey City’s Team Walker, Jerry Walker.

NFL Atlanta Falcons’ wide receiver Frank Darby and retired Chicago Bears’ safety Brandon McGown both played for Lincoln High School, retired Green Bay Packer Frank Winters played football at Emerson High School and retired Denver Broncos’ defensive-end Robert Ayers played his freshman year at Hoboken High School. 

Sports programs such as the Police Athletic League and those offered through local recreational departments have played an important role in the lives of inner-city youth in Hudson County, New Jersey.

The local programs have provided a structured environment for kids to expend restless energy and become skilled at an organized athletic activity. It also offers children an alternative to street life and an outlet for their creativity. This type of program can teach young people that there are other activities available to them besides those that are considered antisocial. 

These youth recreation programs not only offer a place to build their athletic skills, but also offer an atmosphere that allows them to build a peer group and become familiar with their peers from other areas. 

PAL or the Police Athletic League is a youth program that provides sports, personal development, and community care focused outlets for its participants. Some programs, like the PAL, are “100% funded” by supporters.

Jersey City Police Athletic League programs include:

  • JCPAL Explorers: A program designed to provide insights and experiences in various fields, potentially exploring different careers or community activities.
  • JCPAL Football
  • JCPAL Summer Youth Camp: A summer camp program providing activities during the summer month
  • JCPAL Mentorship: A mentorship program that pairs youth with mentors for guidance, support, and personal development.
  • JCPAL Afterschool Program: An afterschool program offering a safe and constructive environment for children, including academic support and recreational activities.
  • JCPAL Safe Haven: A program aimed at providing a safe and nurturing environment for youth, involving activities that promote safety and well-being.
  • JCPAL Youth Leadership Council: This initiative focuses on developing leadership skills among young individuals, encouraging them to take active roles in their community.
  • JCPAL Art: An arts-focused program, which may include various forms of creative and artistic expression.
  • JCPAL Tutoring: An academic support program offering tutoring services to help youth with their studies.
  • JCPAL Book Club: A program encouraging reading and literary discussion among its participants.
  • JCPAL Chess Club: A program focused on chess, promoting strategic thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • JCPAL Home Economics: A program teaching skills related to home management and essential life skills
Photo by Xavier Boone.

But it’s much bigger than that

“In the suburbs, they coined the term, soccer-moms. A soccer-mom is a mom with a mini-van that picks up all the kids and takes them to practice. We don’t have that in Jersey City,” retired police captain and coach Frank Williams told Slice of Culture. 

These programs were filled with self motivated individuals that made it their business to attempt to fill in gaps where it was needed. 

Equipped with simple intent, Captain Williams initially was motivated to “revitalize the PAL.”

After establishing a wrestling team and sending the team of various ages to Cranford, NJ for a tournament, he asked for their feedback. 

“We passed all these houses and they had pools,” he said. “We went to a rich neighborhood.”

“What happened there in that one trip was a byproduct of something that I wasn’t even looking at. I exposed inner-city youth to something other than brick city.”

This newfound realization fueled his new motive, exposure for the inner-city youth. These programs are life changing for the youth and adults that are also a part of the community. 

Simon Group from Newport mall gave PAL a $1500 check that started the wrestling program” said Captain Williams.

Investing In The Youth

Recreation sports programs are funded by the municipal government.

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Local Government Services announced that it is awarding $10 million in Local Recreation Improvement Grants (LRIG) funded by the Corporate Business Tax ($9.5 million) and the Municipal Park Development Fund ($500,000) which can go a long way to updating community centers, park lands and recreational facilities. 

The distribution of these LRIG grants is expected to enhance youth programs and provide for the replacement of playground equipment, pool liners, tennis courts, repair the roof of a community center and other uses like environmental remediation. 

In response to this statewide initiative, Jersey City has unveiled significant allocations of funding to local recreational and youth programs. This funding is another signal of the administration’s commitment to creating healthy and vibrant communities, but especially enriching and invigorating the lives of young people in the city. 

Former Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who served as DCA Commissioner, emphasized the importance of this initiative:

“DCA is proud to assist local governments in repairing and upgrading their parks, playgrounds, and recreational facilities into spaces that promote people’s physical and mental well-being. A big part of what makes a community healthy and vibrant is giving residents the opportunity to take a walk, play a game, and participate in sports and other activities with friends and neighbors in a safe and accessible place.” 

The administration’s investment is its recent awarding of a $65,000 grant in funds from the Mayor’s COVID-19 Community Relief Distribution Fund to the Jersey City Parks Coalition by the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation (JCEDC). Those funds and the grant are aimed at improving recreational facilities and programs in the city to ensure city residents, and particularly the youngest in the city, have safe and active parks.

This fund was established in response to the pandemic and aims to support the hardest-hit community-based organizations, emphasizing the revitalization of arts, summer recreations and enrichment programs for the city’s youth.

With these initiatives, the government is not just supporting active lifestyles and opportunities for personal growth and development, but building a framework to create bonds in the community.

The Educational Arts Team received an award from the Jersey City Arts Trust Fund. This allowed them to offer Family Literacy and arts education programs to more children, with emphasis on those from low-income communities. 

Organizations like the Hudson County Boys & Girls Club and New City Kids received $50,000 each to develop youth recreation, enrichment, and employment programs, and focusing on outdoor activities. 

Riverview Jazz, a nonprofit responsible for producing jazz shows for the community, received a $25,000 grant in 2023 that has been crucial in enabling Riverview Jazz to run free events all year according to Njbiz.com.

Mayor Steve Fulop’s administration in Jersey City has given a boost to community-based organizations, such as recreational and youth programs, through aggressive financial support. As a result, Berry Lane Park has also become a hub for positivity and a closer alternative to Lincoln Park for those in the adjacent neighborhoods. 

Jersey City’s Recreation youth programs host a ton of their programs, events, and practices at Berry Lane. These programs include basketball, boxing, dance, soccer, softball, tennis, volleyball, track and bucket drumming. 

The park is home to a turf field marked for multiple sports usage making it possible for Jersey City lacrosse, a local youth lacrosse league and the Jersey City Soccer Association to use the same field the New York Ironworkers used in 2021 for practice; New York’s premiere professional rugby team. 

“Berry Lane, Caven Point, and most importantly Liberty State Park have been a staple in my community. Providing multiple places for children in my community to congregate and play,” said Justin Pierre, an American-Haitian from Jersey City.

“I am a product of Bayside Park where I played organized baseball, and Curries Woods where I played football,” explained Pierre. “They’ve always been a part of my life and helped to shape the person I am today.”

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