Hunting Park: North Philadelphia Aztecs Keep Children Pointed in a Positive Direction
In cheerleading and football, a team’s success is primarily defined by the number of championship trophies it has accumulated.
However, for the North Philadelphia Aztecs, the definition of success goes way beyond the shiny statues and first-place finishes.
For Wayne “Wiz” Allen, co-founder and current head coach of the 170-pound team, the lessons learned on the field translate into valuable life lessons off the field.
“Once you’re a part of the program, you’re always a part of the program,” Allen said. “That’s why they say ‘Aztec for life.’”
Every summer since 1993, the Aztecs have held open registration at the Hunting Park Recreation Center during the month of June. For the 250 to 300 children between the ages of 5 and 15, this provides a safe and structured alternative to the North Philadelphia streets.
“It gives them routine and structure, two of the things we stress the most,” said Greg Hearn, head coach of the 90-pound team.
Both the football and cheerleading programs have won championships on the city, state, regional and national levels and are annually invited to participate in the Pee Wee Tomlin Pop Warner Championships at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla.
These feats are impressive, considering the teams’ Hunting Park practice facilities fail to provide sufficient night lights. However, in the tradition of the recently opened Hunting Park baseball field, a new football field is set to be finished by September 2013.
“We never had lights before,” Allen said. “It’s always been like that. So that first practice we have, with lights, will be unbelievable.”
Included in a 14-page booklet that all Aztecs parents, players and fans receive at registration is a “Player Contract,” which is broken down into 13 “Conduct Codes” that all players must follow. Failure to follow the code is “deemed grounds for disciplinary actions or dismissal from the team.”
Listed at the bottom of the contract is No. 13, which reads: “I will conduct myself in a way that presents a positive image of the North Philly Aztecs and myself on and off the field.”
The coaches and parents involved remain optimistic that this code will stay with the players and cheerleaders long after the season is over.
“Once the kids finish the program and start [their] lives, hopefully they come back and do the same thing we’re doing,” Allen said, “so we can sit back and basically just enjoy the game.”