Family is a strange term. While it is immediately recognizable what a family is, the definition varies wildly across cultures and individuals. To some, family simply means mom, dad and siblings.To others, it includes an ever-branching tree of more and more distant relatives. To yet others it means only a single mother. But the one thing that is consistent across all definitions of family is they are the people you love and trust the most.
The kids on the Kensington Tigers may all have different definitions of the word “Family,” but the love they feel for them is all the same.
We really didn’t know what to expect when we were invited to visit the homes of some of the players. We had ideas, but they were based on speculation and rumor. Of course we knew the reputation of the neighborhood, but we really didn’t know what to expect the houses and families to be like. Obviously our thoughts turned to broken homes and welfare funded dinners, the things the media has us immediately associate with poverty. I was taken aback when I first arrived, especially after the harrowing walk there.
Lou and I met outside his school. I simply walked behind him with my camera and tried to keep my head down. We didn’t get ten steps across the street before classmates began running over to ask Lou if he was a movie star. As we got further from the school and began walking underneath the El I started to notice some looks and felt uncomfortable.
Without incident, Lou led me to his house where I was introduced to many warm and friendly family members and shown to a buffet of sandwiches and pies. Their house was beautifully decorated and well maintained. It was everything I hoped for and nothing I thought it would be.
When you play football, regardless of the level of professionalism involved, there is a real possibility of injury. According to the March 2009 issue of the medical journal Academic Emergency Medicine, 29 percent of football playing males aged 12 to 17 presented to the emergency room with dislocations or fractures from a game.
Sadly, the Tigers are not above these statistics and even they are sometimes moved by the whims of fate. However, a serious trauma is sometimes the catalyst to bring people together like families. Even if sometimes that means loading your friend into the back of an SUV on a folding table. While these tragic moments may have moved one of the strongest women I’ve ever met nearly to tears it has strengthened the bond between mother and son.
Sometimes it is difficult to remember that the players on the Tigers are really only children. Most of them cannot even vote. But when you see them running around the field, playing hard, hitting hard, it’s always punctuated by these masculine displays of brotherhood: fist bumps, high fives, back pats. They help each other up when they’ve fallen and they are always there for one another in times of need. And every once in a while if you look close enough, and from the right angle, you can almost see these tangible moments where bonds form between the young men on this gridiron. They are bonds that will carry for a lifetime.
Additional thanks to videographers Steve Reitz and Jess Ruggierio. For more about the story of the Kensington football team, visit RiseoftheTigers.com.