On Saturday, May 4, close to 150 eager athletes and cheerleaders came to Southwest College, in South L.A. at 9:00 a.m., where the Snoop Special Stars held their third annual Special Needs Flag Football and Cheer Camp, a free sports camp for special needs youth and adults. Family, friends, former Snoop Youth Football League players, cheerleaders, coaches, and supporters contributed to a special day of training, competing, performing and most importantly, having lots of fun.
According to SYFL Special Needs Director Nykauni Tademy, the Snoop Special Stars is the special needs division of the Snoop Youth Football League, founded by entertainment icon, Snoop Dogg (Calvin Braudus). She says the Snoop Special Stars services all participants, ages five years and older with any physical, mental, and or developmental disability. “Our motto is EveryBODY Plays!” Tademy said.
The sports campers went through challenging drills, from throwing and catching the football, to tackling from a three-point stance, and cheerleaders performed their cheer and dance numbers on midfield, in front of cheering viewers. For some of the campers, even participating is a challenge but if they touch a ball or stand in a formation, it’s a win.
Snoop Dogg worked both parts of the camp from beginning to end, dancing with the cheerleaders and working in the football drills, to taking selfies and giving a part of himself where his love was needed most. He accepted every hug offer from the grateful group. “I ain’t turning down no hugs. It’s a hug a DOGG day,” Snoop said.
There is a majestic gift about Snoop that comes out when he is around young people. He just inherently cares. He also supports a youth football league that has helped launch youngsters toward college careers — and a few to the NFL — but he holds the Special Stars event close to his heart.
The young athletes and cheerleaders spent the day going to various stations, where they participated in different drills and training groups, capping it off with a mass relay race for the ages. Tyrone Rodgers, a former Seattle Seahawk and Banning High alum, is one of the main organizers as well as a father and advocate of his son, Jhai, 17, who has Special Needs. He reflected on the event.
“It’s dear to my heart; this camp increases their sense of community and provides an opportunity for Special Needs people to develop socialization skills, and helps them break through barriers while having fun and creating relationships,” said Rodgers. He says the Snoop Special Stars helps bring awareness autism and the increased number of diagnoses.
“Snoop Special Stars gives our clients the opportunity to participate as volunteers in assisting the younger participants in all of the football drills,” said Lori Talley, CEO. Her company, Alternative Adult Day Services, Inc. serves intellectually disabled adults who are seeking gainful employment opportunities. The goal of the organization is to insure that their clients be a part of and contribute to mainstream society.
Nykauni agreed, “Our mission is to provide affordable, positive and fun outlets for individuals and families with disabilities,” she said. She says their goal is to break the negative stigma surrounding Special Needs and to provide support and positive resources within inner city communities and surrounding areas.”
The camp’s volunteers ranged from former SYFL players, coaches, and parents, to Los Angeles Chargers players, DB Jeff Richards, RB Detrez Newsome, and LB Denzel Perryman, who took time out to embrace, mentor, and encourage the young athletes.
“It’s for all the kids man. It’s Saturday … we had the day off and were offered the opportunity and didn’t hesitate,” said Perryman. Newsome agreed. “Givin’ back to the community, man. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about the kid’s, man and having a great time with them,” he said. “They said it man … it’s about the kids. Glad to come out and show my love and support for them,” said Richards.
Jeremiah, a teenage participant, dreams of going to the NFL but says his fallback plan is to either work with animals or be a journalist. He took the opportunity to chat with Richards, who agreed to point to the camera when he makes his first interception grab. “Yeah, you have to point to the camera!” Jeremiah demanded. Richards agreed, so time will tell.
Additional images – photos E. Mesiyah McGinnis / LA Sentinel
This story has been updated with corrections, new images and information.