Donovan of Columbus Park striking a pose before the parade | Sara Janz

On Saturday, nearly 500 children and youth from the West Side arrived in their baseball uniforms at the Garfield Park Golden Dome. They joined Chicago police officers, many of whom are also youth sports coaches, to march in the annual parade of teams of Chicago Westside Sports.  

Chicago Westside Sports brings together volunteers from local organizations and churches and the Chicago Police Department to provide opportunities for youth to participate in free baseball, basketball and archery. The goal of the league is not only to provide safe spaces for youth on the West Side, but also to help them learn valuable skills through sports.  

On Saturday, the baseball teams of kids in grades 3 through 8, posed at the stairwell of the Garfield Park Golden Dome to celebrate the start of the fifth season of the Chicago Westside Police & Youth Sports Conference. This season, they will be playing baseball in five West Side parks, including Columbus Park, Garfield Park, Moore Park, La Follette Park and Franklin Park. Police officers from four districts – the 10th, 11th, 15th and 25th – participate as coaches for the baseball teams, in partnership with a church and non-profit volunteer who also serve as coaches and mentors for youth.  

Chicago Westside police and youth sports group photo. From left to right: La Follette Park, Levin Park, Franklin Park, Moore Park, Columbus Park, and Garfield Park | Sara Janz

Chicago Westside Sports was founded in 2018 by Lt. Jermaine Harris of the Chicago Police Department, Pastor Steve Epting of Hope Community Church and Stephanie Marquardt, executive director of City of Refuge Chicago.  

Collaboration is at the center of the community volunteers and young sports players experience, helping all community members work together in areas that have historically experienced high-crime and disinvestment in youth.  

Officer Sara Lozada, Chicago PD, pictured hugging youth athlete. | Sara Janz

“The ‘three-legged stool’ model at Chicago Westside Sports is a true example of an all-hands-on-deck approach,” the police department’s Harris said in a social media post.  

Under this model, all parties — churches, nonprofits and police — work together to bring positive, lasting change for West Side youth.