CHICAGO — He’s a football coach, a baseball coach and some might say a life coach. With a reputation for success and commitment to Chicago’s youth, he recently caught the eye of a former president.
Ernest Radcliffe is one of Chicago’s Very Own.
Not many Chicago neighborhood football teams get a visit from the 44th president of the United States during practice.
“When he came, it was a tremendous honor. All the children were like ‘Obama, Obama!’ and it was like I couldn’t believe it,” Radcliffe said.
In June, former President Barack Obama visited Radcliffe’s youth football team in Jackson Park
Radcliffe is the director of the South Side Wolfpack football team, a non-profit organization he founded nearly 25 years ago.
It is designed to give children a safe afterschool alternative. Obama thought so highly of the work he’s doing to keep kids safe and off the streets, he stopped by to show his appreciation.
A high school baseball coach, Radcliffe has always had a passion for football. So through the sport, Radcliffe, along with a dozen volunteers, coach and mentor the young athletes on and off the field.
“It has just helped me become a better person and student-athlete,” one team member said.
Assistant director and coach Rynell Morgan said education is key to turning out successful young people. The program puts great emphasis on helping the students excel academically.
“We check grades and we ask parents not to pull the children out if they’re struggling, and we get them and we try to tutor them and make sure they get caught up with their grades,” Morgan said.
In an effort to help kids go to college using their athletic talent, he formed a show travel baseball team a while back.
The team not only exposed the kids to the sport, it also lets them showcase their talent to college scouts.
“We tell them all the time, use your athletic abilities to get yourself a free education,” Morgan said.
Radcliffe engages kids at an early age, offering spots to children as young as 6.
Radcliffe’s wife Tonya is also a volunteer coach and mentor, providing opportunities for young girls to compete in the Wolfpacks cheerleading squad.
“It is very important to have this program to instill the discipline, camaraderie and character, and give these young people an opportunity to dream big,” Radcliffe said.
His program has turned out some professional athletes throughout the years, but his main goal is to prepare kids for a future beyond sports.
“Because one day, somebody in our program might be the President of the United States,” Radcliffe said.