December 25, 2009

Snoop Dogg league success on and off field

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Here's how it breaks down:

The football youth program is run by Snoop Dogg. And many of the coaches have criminal records.

But everyone - from kids to parents to high school officials to community leaders - agrees it has been a rousing success. On and off the field.

On the field, the impact of the 5-year-old league is easy to see. Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw won its first 14 games, captured the city title and gave perennial national power De La Salle all it could handle in a CIF bowl game before coming up short.

"It is more of an advantage to have kids who played in the Snoop Dogg league," Crenshaw coach Robert Garrett told the Associated Press in a profile of the league before the bowl game. "They also have the experience, the fundamentals and the attitude that guys who started from scratch don't have."

Crenshaw, ranked as high No. 18 during the season, finished the year ranked No. 42 in the RivalsHigh Top 100 rankings.

Its star player, junior running back De'Anthony Thomas, was one of nine players on Crenshaw who were product of the Snoop Doog league.

"It's like a big family," he said. And that was the point of all of this. Snopp Dogg, whose given name is Calvin Broadus, noticed the inner-city area did not have an outlet for football - and figured it was some thing that could bring people together in the impoverished and gang-infested area.

Broadus' reputation for raunchy lyrics and run-ins with the law brought some initial apprehension from the mostly single mothers who wanted to enroll their sons.

"It was kind of hard to separate Snoop Dogg the entertainer from Snoop Dogg the coach, the father," league Commissioner Haamid Wadood said.

But the league soon caught on, especially when fathers with criminal records learned they could coach, unlike most other youth sports. Snoop Dogg, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, is himself a former gang member, and has several convictions for drugs and weapons offenses. If the league didn't allow ex-cons, there wouldn't be enough coaches.

"When you look at the demographics of the area, this is the reality of the situation," Wadood said. "We don't condone any of that, but we look at the nature of the offense, how recent it was."

Sex offenders and domestic violence convicts, for instance, are banned from the sidelines.

The coaching exception has also reconnected boys with their dads, or at least with positive male role models in neighborhoods where fathers are often behind bars or otherwise absent.

The dads, many of them members of the rival Bloods and Crips, must agree to leave their gang disputes away from the field.

"This is kind of like a peace treaty," Wadood said. "Everybody wants something better for their kids."

Broadus, 38, launched the league in 2005 with $1 million of his own money after noticing that much of urban Los Angeles had no football for boys ages 5 to 13. He's since invested about $300,000, Wadood said.

The league now has 2,500 kids enrolled. And if they are enrolled in football, they may be more likely to stay in school and less likely to join a gang.

"It keeps me out of trouble, from hanging in places I shouldn't be," Crenshaw wide receiver Geno Hall said. "It's helped me to grow mentally."

While Broadus' larger-than-life figure was not the motivation for the kids to play football, his personal involvement boosts the self-esteem of boys who often receive little attention at home. The rapper attends games and allows his bodyguards to let players approach him freely.

Those intangibles, said coach Garrett, are invaluable for inner-city youth. The burly coach sees his job as much about taking a troubled team member home for food or clothing as it is about football. He lectures about keeping up grades and has imposed a rule requiring neckties, dress shirts and trousers on Fridays during season to get players out of the "hood culture."

The success of Crenshaw and the Snoop league is capturing widespread attention.

College recruiters have already approached players such as Thomas and Hall, and the league is fielding calls from cities such as Dallas and Pittsburgh that want to replicate the Snoop model.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report

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