BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Since 1961, the Rosedale Jets Football Association has been breeding star athletes, like former New Orleans Saints guard and now-free agent Tutan Reyes. But it was not until more than 30 years later that the program became just as focused on breeding scholars.
In 1994, former Rosedale Jets player Jacques Leandre and a few of his friends decided they needed to revitalize the program to suit the community’s shifting demographics and growing needs.
“The culture of the community had changed so we revitalized the program. We decided to put a focus on much more than football,” Leandre said. “We wanted to be a holistic outlet for the community.”
In response to the lack of academic resources for the children in Southeast Queens, Leandre, now president of the league, said the group began offering a number of after school programs, such as tutoring and a junior high school to high school transitionIng.
“We feel that education and athletics are critical in a child’s experience. It’s rare to find folks who achieve at a very high level athletically without having achieved on the academic [side] as well,” he said. “There are academic requirements at a high school level and there are academic requirements at a college level in order to just participate, so we look at it the same way.”
Leandre finds that the league’s academic focus is equally as important as the athletic focus, especially in the resource-starved neighborhoods of Southeast Queens.
“We don’t have the luxury to have a program that is strictly recreational. When you look at the incarceration rates, young people between 14 and 19 are getting arrested and more than 40 percent of our young people will graduate illiterate,” he said. “It would almost be criminal not to make our program constructive, based on the reality of today.”
This is especially important, Leandre said, in light of the City’s recent budget cuts, which have closed many after school programs across the Borough.
“Most anti-social behavior and crimes that occur at a childhood age happen between the hours 3 and 6 p.m., which is exactly when after school programs are running. With the cuts to all the after school programs, we had to be an organization that closed that gap,” he said. “There is not one community center in the vicinity of Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens or Cambria Heights.”
Since the program has grown to include an educational component, the Rosedale Jets Football Association has become a staple in the community. Today, more than 250 children, ages 6-13, participate in the league’s football and cheerleading teams.
This past year, the Rosedale Jets have also done quite well on the field. In 2013, three of its teams went undefeated and won the Super Bowl for their division – consisting of more than 50 organizations. The league’s 7-year-old team also went 8-0 for the season.
But the biggest accomplishment of the year, Leandre said, was being voted ‘Best Organization’ by all the other teams in Long Island.
“We were voted by all the other towns in Long Island as team of the year based on sportsmanship, based on scholarship and based on being an overall great citizen of the league,” he said. “Some of the values we instill in our children is loyalty, sportsmanship, scholarship, trustworthiness and bravery.”
The Rosedale Jets will begin registration for its teams in March. Practices are held at Brookville Park. For more information about registration and fees, call Jacques Leandre or Yvonne Mitchell at (718) 635-0397.
Reach Reporter Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @nkozikowska.