NORFOLK, Va. — The sight is not unusual at first. The sun beats down on grass blades that fly in every direction, a pair of Nikes slowly turn green as they go back and forth. It's 10:45 AM in Norfolk and the fast growing summer grass needs to be cut.
Look a bit closer and the artists of this trim begin to stand out. Each shy of their teenage years, but each focused and diligent in their tasks. They chatter occasionally and sometimes request coaching from the nearby grown ups, but they never stop making progress through the mowing and trimming and bagging. One is wearing a crisp white football jersey reading "Timberwolves" across the front.
"This is bigger than sports, these guys are football players," says Glenn Yearling, a youth football coach, "My biggest thing is these kids can help the parents out. Not everything has to come from a parent, these kids, they can help themselves."
Larry Williams had been working with the Wolves for 10 years, he shows the players how to properly sweep grass off the sidewalk as diligently as how to catch or tackle. "I like to teach character, rather than talent. They gonna have their talent there. I'm gonna teach them to up they skill, but as far as character as far as leadership, that goes a long way as well. I know a lot of kids who have talent, who doesn't make it because of their character and their mindset. I'm trying to get their mindset to be locked in," says Williams. After showing the kids how to sweep the grass, Williams grabs the weed whacker and goes to work himself. "You've got to lead by example, can't sit there and call shots all the time, you've got to show them."
Each "landscaper" is a member of Yearling's Timberwolves. For the last 40 years Yearling has been using football to impart life lessons, but he wanted more.
"I want it to be life lessons, not just sports," Yearling wanted to diversify, "I want to teach them on both sides, I want to give them discipline on the field and off the field."
Yearling had long noticed kids knocking on his door with a lawn mower in tow. He would always throw them a few dollars for a mow. Soon he turned the observation into an education, bringing a rotating cast of Timberwolves to various community neighborhoods as part of a landscaping company. The kids are paid for their work. The hard work resulting in reward teaches self sufficiency to the players. Independence can be crucial when growing up amongst alluring crowds headed down the wrong path.
"If they see something going on, they want to be a part of it whether it's good or bad," Yearling warns, "but it's up to us to pull them away from that. There's some consequences behind this stuff, you want to go out there and hang in the streets there's gonna be some consequences. We trying to pull you so you won't ever have to know about what them consequences is."
The time spent working is less time spent suffering those consequences and the time in the sun prepares the kids for football season. You'd be forgiven if you forgot this was still a football team, after all they are much more than that.
More information about how to help or become involved with the Timberwolves can be found here.