On Friday, September 21 the Los Angeles Rams partnered with Hav A Sole & Nike Community Ambassadors to surprise the Watts Bears youth football program with new cleats. Rams Linebacker SAMSON EBUKAM, Defensive Lineman ETHAN WESTBROOKSand Director of Player Engagement JACQUES McCLENDONattended an evening practice at Dymally High school to lead players through drills and provide support while encouraging the program's youth to continue pursuing their goals on-and-off the field.
"These kids pulled their cleats out right away and you can bet they're going to play hard with them on," said Zarren Thompson, LAPD officer and co-founder of the Watts Bears. "If the Rams believe in their dreams and goals, then why shouldn't they believe in their own?"
Created by LAPD officers from the Southeast Division, the Watts Bears youth football program was created to give underprivileged youth in Watts a chance to play organized sports and to positively change the historically strained relationship between police and the community of Watts. The LAPD officers serve as coaches for the student-athletes, using sports as a vehicle to introduce, reinforce and promote concepts valued in society such as strong moral character, positive values, personal responsibility and a commitment to academics. The program's mission is to positively change the minds of their youth by challenging, guiding and teaching all their student-athletes to be leaders, not only in Watts, but throughout the world.
Commitment, teamwork and time-management were all lessons linebacker Samson Ebukam learned through the game of football. Sharing insights with the Watts Bears players, he also emphasized the importance of positive reinforcement for youth on-and-off the football field.
"It always feels good to give back. If I could, I would give back even more, and I think we should do our part in the community and spread our influence," said Ebukam. "We want to show them that they aren't out here grinding for no reason and that people are thinking of them. Now they can play the game they love with shoes that can help them on the field and maybe even inspire them to stay committed to the game when they're off the field."
Ebukam also provided a few words of advice to a young Watts Bears player who aspires to play his position of outside linebacker. As a player who has previously been encouraged to try out other positions due to his size, Ebukam had a message for the athlete. He even educated the student-athlete about a fellow teammate of his…
"Don't ever let anybody tell you that you're too small to do something," said Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam with both hands on the player's shoulder pads. "People told Aaron Donald that he was too small to play defensive tackle and now he's the best in the game…"
For Watts Bears Head Coach Zarren Thompson, Ebukam and Westbrooks' visit to his team's practice gave his players a sense of community and provided them role models that are reachable and mentors that truly care about their dreams and aspirations.
"This means everything, but most importantly, it means opportunity," said Thompson. "Getting these kids exposed to something different and showing them that there's more than where we're from is so important. They realize that it's not about where you're from but where you're going. To see these professional athletes and the Rams organization come out here to let these kids know that they're in the same community is such a blessing. It shows that somebody else cares and it provides an example of dreams coming true if you work hard enough and stay on the right path because these players are a living testimony for what can be achieved if one sets their mind to something."
The practice-visit was part of the Rams continued efforts in support of the Watts Bears program. Previous initiatives have included player visits (footage here), rewarding Watts Bears coaches and LAPD officers with a trip to Super Bowl LII (footage here), an invitation to enjoy a Rams Training Camp practice from a VIP hospitality tent, and the opportunity to attend Rams games including lighting the torch and joining the team on the field for player introductions.
For more information about the Rams efforts in the community, please visit therams.com/community.