In my hometown, Greenville, Miss., the YMCA was where we learned how to play football.
All the Outzen boys, plus most of the Roman Catholic and African-American kids in the program, played for my father. Most of the teams broke even, although a couple of my younger brothers might have won a league championship.
My dad believed in the value of team sports. He never yelled anything but words of encouragement. He never cut corners on teaching the basics of the sport. He made every kid, not just his sons, feel special.
He grew up in the Great Depression, never knowing his father who had died when he was young. He went to a small Catholic school, St. Rose of Lima—so small that his graduating class only had five students. Yet he loved football and instilled that love in all five of his boys and most of the kids in our neighborhood.
The Greenville YMCA on Theobald Street, just a few blocks from the levee that protected the town from the Mississippi River, was his second home when he was a child. Its indoor pool, gym and game room were his after-school program.
When he returned to Greenville from the Korean War and his sons became school age, dad became a coach and Y football was never the same. He believed every kid should play, regardless of race or family wealth. It’s why his teams usually had most of the black kids. He made sure everyone had uniforms, helmets, cleats and pads.
For a lot of the boys in the 1960s and ‘70s, Y football was the first place they played with kids of another race. Though he never talked about it, I’m sure my dad had pushback, but people didn’t tell my father “no.”
The city of Pensacola is debating whether a new downtown YMCA should be built at the Community Maritime Park. The naysayers get one more opportunity to bash a park that they never supported. The Y building is in step with the original concept of a public park on Pensacola Bay, the ideal substitution for the maritime museum that the University of West Florida dropped from its capital plans.
My dad, who died over 20 years ago, wouldn’t have hesitated in supporting the Maritime Y. He knew what it meant to his childhood, his children and hundreds of other kids.
What better investment can we make?