An 8-and-under team from the west end of Cincinnati called the West End Senators has been plagued by homelessness, minimal funds, decades-old uniforms and gear, and significant transportation issues. Coaches Lamonte Regan and Kevin Crockett helped a few young men escape for a weekend to play football in Owensboro, where numerous individuals and organizations pitched in to better the children’s lives.
The story starts at the Owensboro Daviess County Youth Football League (ODCYFL) annual King of the Hill Tournament earlier this month. Unlike most years, it wasn’t the championship teams everyone was talking about.
Tournament organizer Shawn Chaney connected with the Senators months in advance to track down birth certificates, as he does with every team. Those birth certificates were challenging to produce with several of the kids living in homeless shelters, so they eventually settled for state-issued certifications.
Chaney knew then that the team was unique, but it wasn’t until they arrived that he and others from the community truly understood their situation.
“The coaches had money to rent a passenger van but didn’t have a major credit card to book one, so they had to get creative with transportation,” Chaney said. “Myself and others started noticing them and taking an interest. For 3 men to bring 18 kids alone with no parents was remarkable.”
Chaney and a woman close to the league asked the team where they were staying, and they indicated they were driving back and forth. That didn’t sit well with her, so she secured three rooms at a local hotel, organized team meals, and more. Others quickly pitched in for the cause.
“She doesn’t want her name mentioned, but she has to know she initiated all of this,” Chaney said of the woman. “She really showed light to a lot of people.”
After a good night’s sleep, the Senators returned to the field on Sunday to face the host Predators. They were greeted by fans from other teams who flocked to the bleachers to cheer them on.
“People filled the stands,” Chaney said. “People from other states and other teams. People who just wanted to see what was going on. The next thing you know, we’re all in the stands for this team, and community members and other team moms are asking how they can help.”
This is where the story gets even better.
A St. Charles, Missouri, team collected donations to fund the Senators’ return home, along with cleats to have for future games.
The same individual who secured the rooms knew it was one of the player’s birthdays and purchased cupcakes.
Another mom bought them all Gatorades for each game.
While all this was going on, another organizer was working with the local bus garages to find the team safe transportation home. Before she could get an answer, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church had already donated their church bus and two drivers to take them back to the Queen City.
The two local drivers returned to Owensboro to fill more community members in on the situation in Cincinnati. It turns out that 6 days before the team arrived in Owensboro, there was a drive-by shooting into a group of children that left 2 dead.
Chaney stayed in touch with Regan, asking him what more could be done to help and trying to learn more about the kids’ situations.
“We came up with the idea to spoil them a little bit and bought them gift bags,” Chaney said. “We want to let them know there is hope out there. We wanted to show them love – something they rarely see.”
The Owensboro community rallied to fill the gift bags with clothes, jackets, shoes, gloves, and sock hats.
A local dentist donated numerous toothbrushes and hygiene products.
The St. Charles community purchased the team and others in the community basketball uniforms with the latest shoes to prepare for the upcoming season on the hardwood.
One of Chaney’s friends – a firefighter from the Cincinnati area – is organizing a nonprofit to secure donations for the kids and their families.
“We’re never going to ask for money – just tangible things that these kids need and that we often take for granted,” Chaney said. “In less than 2 weeks, we’ve secured donations from across four states, and we have to send a U-Haul to Cincinnati to deliver it all. Our community is a lot stronger than I ever imagined.”
Chaney said others have shared that seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces after opening their gift bags has been more rewarding than they could have imagined.
“I hope others can see this and open their eyes to struggles that are all around us, and even in our backyards,” he said. “I just hope we can get more people involved and send more love to these kids.”
Locals are now organizing Christmas presents for the team and their families. For many of the youngsters, it will be their first time to open a Christmas present.
“I’ve never wanted and don’t want this to be about me,” he said. “Lamonte and Kevin donate their time, which is 2 hours every other day, to these kids. They ensure they have a place to stay, feed them, and make a difference in their lives every day.”
Those interested in joining the cause can call or text Chaney at 270-313-5661.