08/03/06 — Good news Bears

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Good news Bears

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on August 3, 2006 2:17 PM

Like most football coaches this time of year, Wayne County Bears coach Richard Bailey is on a mission.

But conditioning and game preparation aren't the most important issues for Bailey and the Bears staff as the team gears up for their first season in the amateur Carolina Football Development League.

Make no mistake, the Bears want to win. But victories in the game of life are much more valuable in this league than a favorable tally on the scoreboard, Bailey said.

"Football is secondary. Our major goal is getting guys into college and careers, then help them increase their level of talent in football," Bailey said. "Every player's progress is charted to make sure they are working to their goals."

Wayne County is one of three newcomers this year in the CFDL, which was founded in 2004. Johnston County and Franklin County are also new to the league, while Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte were the charter members. Greenville plans on fielding a team next year.

The Bears currently have 14 players -- all Wayne County natives -- on Bailey's post-graduate squad (18-23-year-olds). They have just nine on their prep team (15-18), which will be coached by William Hinton.

"We started in February and every month gets better and better," Bailey said. "Our older team is going really well, but on our prep team, we are struggling with numbers. We need about five, six or seven more minimum."

The league gives young athletes a second chance after becoming academically or age ineligible or dropping out of high school or college. It also offers young men from private, charter or alternative schools -- which often do not have football programs -- the chance to put on the pads.

But the function of this team doesn't start or stop there. The CFDL has adopted a year-round "whole player" strategy that concentrates on academic, financial and life skills, as well. The Bears practice twice a week at Fairview Park, and every Thursday they meet at the W.A. Foster Center for a life skills class.

One week they may learn about building a resume and interviewing for jobs. The next, they might get a lesson on health and nutrition. For those currently enrolled in school, tutors are available. No skill or issue seems to be off limits.

"It's a wonderful way for us to stay in touch with them. We do two surveys when the guys sign up and we look at where their troubles are," county director Trish Alejandro said. "It helps us have a clearer picture of our job and gives us an idea of where we need to get our speakers from.

"These boys have come tremendously far. They were distant when we first started ... they just wanted to play football. Now, when they get a good grade in school they call us to let us know, and they are learning to be more responsible."

One of Alejandro's key roles is helping the team and organization make connections with the local and state government, schools, churches and non-profit organizations.

"I try to find the sponsorships and money to keep the team going," she said. "We have to work partnerships with different organizations because it's important to have their support."

Just as it is crucial for the Bears to receive support, Bailey believes the team also should give their fair share to the community, too.

"We want the community's support, but we also want to give back to the community," he said. "We want to get out and do a lot of service projects and be involved."

Flynn Edmundson, a 2001 Goldsboro High graduate, is one of the older players on the post-graduate team. He believes the opportunity with the Bears is not just a chance to improve himself, but it gives him the ability to mentor some of the younger players.

"Being out here and having a second chance is great. We're coming out together and trying to become a better team," he said. "Me being one of the older guys, I get a chance to be a mentor.

"It's keeping a lot of people off the streets, so it's a real good thing. We're starting to get a lot more support. It's good for us to learn the life skills to help us get a job."

Both the prep and post-graduate teams will play their home games at Goldsboro Middle School, but the Bears are slated to play their first three on the road -- starting Sept. 2 at Durham.

Wayne County opens its home schedule on Sept. 16 with a rematch against Durham.


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