SAVING OUR SONS

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South Shore Team: The drill of life

Photo source: www.southshoredrillteam.org
   At the Rebecca Crown center, a small gym on the city’s South Side, 10 inner-city youths busily prepare for something big. On a recent afternoon, the team entered together, laughing and horsing around, asking each about each other’s day, and texting friends on their cell phones. But at the sound of “Aten-Hut,” everyone suddenly got serious. Kevin Ray, the team unit leader, told everyone to get changed at the center, located at 7601 S. Phillips. An intense practice session was about to begin. The small unit of the South Shore Drill Team was preparing for an upcoming competition. In fact, they were putting the finishing touches on a routine they would perform at the Color Guard Regionals competition in Indianapolis, just days away.
           Founded in 1980 by former Chicago Public School teacher Arthur Robertson, the South Shore Drill Team was started as a way to keep at-risk inner city youths off the streets and out of trouble, particularly in neighborhoods where crime and violence affect the lives of young people on a daily basis.
           The program gives teens the opportunity to do something fun and creative while staying out of trouble, according to the group’s published material.
           Eric Thomas has been with the South Shore Drill Team for nine years. While making sure the team was getting ready for practice, he talked about the South Shore Drill Team.
“The team made a big difference in my life, it really kept me out of trouble and I would recommend it to younger students. It keeps them busy in a good way,” said Thomas.
        According to the group’s published material, most of the teens in the program come from areas where the high school drop-out rate is 55 percent or higher. The South Shore Drill Team sees 99.5 percent of its members graduate with their classes and most of them going on to college, according to the team’s official website.
   In addition to teaching teens dance and rifle twirling, the drill team also offers programs to help teens in the program succeed educationally. Started by a school teacher, the group remains focused on education. The program offers educational support to all members of the team with tutoring and computer labs for homework.
    The team, begun more than three decades ago with four members, now has 350 young men and women between the ages of 8 and 21, according its fact sheet. Every year, they perform in more than 130 parades and live events.
   Parents also play a large role in the South Shore Drill Team’s success, not only by encouraging their children to stay on the team, but as a part of the Parent Booster Club. The Parent Booster Club consists of parents and volunteers that assist the team with costume production and make-up for shows. They also chaperone trips and provide food and water for team members and staff during trips and performances.
         The program offers financial assistance to team members from under-privileged families, by providing bus cards, food, clothing and other necessities. This is made possible by company sponsorship and private donations combined with revenue from parade performance fees, their annual holiday and spring shows and the parent fundraising.
         For members of the drill team, training for the real world does not stop with education. Older members of the team have the opportunity to train younger students and help them prepare for competition and performances. By doing so, they can learn leadership skills and discipline while also giving them the chance to earn a small stipend for their work. At least that’s the aim, according to those who run the drill team.
              Eric Thomas says he can attest to how the team can help young people.
“I have been inspired to work with kids because of the Drill Team,” Thomas said recently while making sure his team was getting ready for practice.
             At that recent practice, the team worked on the end of their routine, which includes different groups performing simultaneously then coming together as one, tossing rifles in the air, dancing, flag twirling and saber tossing, all at the same time.
            The team members all had to work together to make the elements come together for the show.
Photo source: www.southshoredrillteam.org
            Stella Natufe, an alumnus of the drill team, has been with the team since she was 13 and has stayed on as a girls’ coach. As she watched the drill team perform the routine, she encouraged them to do their best.
           “You all have to learn to give 100 percent from the time you get on the floor until the time you leave,” Natufe said, speaking before the team started their routine again.
            After a particularly difficult run of the routine, the team members became frustrated. With every run of the routine, they seemed distracted and began to perform the routine worse than when practice first started. Ray could tell that the team was tired and frustrated. He called them to attention. Suddenly everyone in the gym froze and everything went silent.
           After a minute, he gave the team a pep talk, telling them they have to believe in themselves and work together to make their routine perfect.
           “You all have come a long way, I know you want to do it,” Ray said, “Determination means a lot.”
             As the practice went on, the team seemed to become more and more confident. And as practice came to a close, Ray and other team leaders let them know they had confidence in the team, giving one the one last bit of advice that applied to the competition and also to their lives.
            “If we focus on one thing, all of us coming together, we can make it,” Ray said, “you can make it.”
By Erika Powell
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