It had been almost seven years since Akili Hill had played an organized soccer game, and about five years since he had played any version of the game.
But to get back on the pitch and do those familiar old cuts and takes while a big crowd of home fans roared, he said, “is the best feeling ever.”
Hill hung on with two interceptions in the end zone, twice thwarting the opposition’s long drives and helping his team to victory.
“I’m still light on my feet so it was pretty easy to get back into it,” the 24-year-old said with a smile. “Also some of these guys here lost it a long time ago.”
There were leaps and dives, spectacular breakaways, highlight-worthy pass deflections…and a handful of players who were out of breath after a few plays.
But it was all for the delight of a valued audience who were given entertainment and a reason to reminisce as more than 50 former Poughkeepsie High School athletes came together last Saturday for a football game. old students.
“Something like that brings back the sense of community for a little while,” Hill said of the more than 200 spectators who joined them at Eastman Park. “It’s important, especially here, where there’s a lot of drama and negativity. We need things that bring people together to have a good time. It’s all just love.
This was precisely the purpose of the event. Shonda Faulkner said the idea for the outing came about a month ago when he was saddened after reading the story of the shooting of a Poughkeepsie teenager. This, unfortunately, was another example of an ongoing trend of violence in the city.
“It wasn’t that bad and we didn’t have to deal with that much when I was at school here,” said Faulkner, who graduated in 2003 and eventually made a career in professional football. . “I think we had more youth programs, and the kids were more athletic and there was a greater sense of community. We need some of that.
The event, which ran through the afternoon until around 8 p.m., drew 45 youngsters who took part in drills, including a passing contest and a 40-yard run, before taking part in a flag football game. It was a prequel to the Oldies Game, a two-handed tapping contest that featured Poughkeepsie High School graduates dating back to the Class of 1999.
They also paid tribute to several youth football coaches, paying tribute to “some of the people who helped shape us and keep us out of trouble,” Faulkner said. Plaques presented to coaches in attendance, including Norman Moore, whose alumni paid for his flight from North Carolina.
The parking lot adjacent to the lot was littered with grills and barbecues, and free food was served throughout the afternoon. This helped create a festive atmosphere, giving it the feel of a neighborhood barbecue, with a bit of football on the side.
Poughkeepsie High School Principal Kelleyann Royce-Giron was among those in attendance, along with several current students, including athletes, and a handful of their friends from other area schools.
The impetus for all of this was to inspire local youth with the aim of helping revive football in the region, and the ultimate goal of making athletics a crime deterrent.
“We really did it for the kids,” said 2012 graduate Chris Easter. “With all the violence, these kids definitely need better guidance. Next to my dad, some of my biggest influences were my Pop Warner coaches. They were in our lives and helped put us in a position to improve.
Faulkner, a former linebacker, said the sport helped him “go from Tubman Terrace to the Saints locker room.” He played at Indiana State University and later attended minicamp with the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings before pursuing a career in the Canadian Football League.
He covered most of the expenses and led the event with Irvin Williams, a Poughkeepsie native who also played college football. Williams runs a print shop and he had jerseys made for the 54 alumni, who were split into blue and white teams.
“Once we rolled them out and started showing them on Facebook,” Faulkner said, “people saw that it was curated and for real, and a lot of guys started contacting me to tell me. say they were interested in. A lot of them still live in Dutchess (county), upstate or New Jersey, so it wasn’t too much for them to come back for that.
Faulkner lives in Florida but said he owns a trucking business based in Middletown, so he often returns to the Hudson Valley and nurtured old friendships in Poughkeepsie.
“These are kids we’ve watched grow up, and now they’re able to give back to the community and even give us our flowers,” said longtime former Pop Warner coach Arthur Turner. He retired to Virginia but made the trip to attend. “It means the world to me.”
Football has dwindled over the past decade in Poughkeepsie, and several youth coaches blame the decline in attendance and interest. The high school team had struggled since winning a Division 1 championship in 2011, and the baseball program had also meandered.
The decline in local sports, Hill said, has coincided with the rise in teenage violence and he thinks there’s some overlap.
“There are a lot of negative influences around kids growing up in the city, so you always want to take their attention away from that and get them to focus on something productive that they enjoy,” said Hill, who works for public works in the town of Poughkeepsie. Department. “Football, football, baseball, anything. You just want to keep them active and focused on something good.
Easter said he would like the alumni game to become an annual event and to have a children’s football league in Poughkeepsie. Faulkner said he plans to have a similar game next year and said it’s likely to be an even bigger event with better planning.
“Hopefully some of these little kids saw us play and saw how much fun we had, and maybe they’ll want to get in on it,” Easter said.
Poughkeepsie football and baseball have seen some revival over the past school year, although both teams have competed in Division 1 developmental leagues. football team reached the league final and had their first winning season since 2012.
As for the oldies showdown, Easter scored two touchdowns to lead Team White to a 21-14 win over Blue. Jamik Carter (Class of 2019) and Mo’Quez Dickens (Class of 2017) performed acrobatic catches for the blue team, but Hill’s red zone defense and interceptions were too much to overcome.
Nigel Whitaker, who played for the Poughkeepsie football team last fall, was the youngest alumnus. He played cornerback for the white team, while a few of his college teammates mocked him playing zone coverage “against those old guys.”
“This event was magnificent,” said Nakia Wood, who was among the young coaches honored. Williams and Faulkner praised him for the discipline he instilled in them as children. “Sport and community can make all the difference for a child.
For the most part, the kids we trained grew up to be respectable young men. They (were) able to take the principles and apply them to their lives and make better decisions. It kept them off the streets and away from crime. You want this for these (future) generations.
Stephen Haynes: [email protected]; 845-437-4826; Twitter: @StephenHaynes4