zhjhbkl0 April 4, 2018

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh appeared Tuesday with Baltimore Ravens President Dick Cass and Up2Us Sports CEO Paul Caccamo to announce the NFL team’s $1.5 million initiative to bring hundreds of coaches and mentors to work with the city’s youth. (Ian Duncan)

The Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday announced a $1.5 million partnership with a national nonprofit that will deploy hundreds of sports coaches and youth mentors throughout the city over the next five years.

Ravens president Dick Cass announced the initiative along with three players and Mayor Catherine Pugh at the Brooklyn O’Malley Boys and Girls Club in South Baltimore.

“If you’re a football player for an NFL team, coaches were a very important part of your life,” Cass said. “Whether it was basketball, football, or whatever sports you chose to play — coaches [were] very, very important.”

The Ravens are partnering with a nonprofit called Up2Us Sports that places AmeriCorps volunteers as sports coaches around the country. The coaches are trained to use sports as a way to help children “achieve their potential” and deal with life’s challenges.

The team’s $1.5 million investment is enough to help the program bring 200 coaches to Baltimore over five years who will work with boys and girls in a range of sports.

The New York City-based Up2Us also hopes to train 2,000 coaches who are already working in the city on how to use sports to address problems that come with living in poverty. In all, the program is expected to benefit 18,000 children.

Cass said Tuesday’s announcement was the product of work that began in the fall when Brandon Etheridge, the Ravens’ general counsel and a former Up2Us director, introduced the group to the team. The Ravens got players involved in the planning — three of whom attended the event with children from the Boys and Girls Club.

“Without them and other players from the Baltimore Ravens, we wouldn’t have made this investment,” Cass said.

Brandon Williams, a defensive tackle, said that as he was growing up in a single parent home his sports coaches were father figures for him. Williams said he wanted to be involved in projects that would give other children the same opportunity he had.

“It makes me feel great because we’re making a difference,” he said. “We’re trying to make a difference the best way we can and that’s not just giving money and leaving. That’s diving in and going through situations and really being there for the kids.”

Williams was joined by linebacker Matt Judon and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley.

Last year the Ravens spent $1.5 million to renovate the Renaissance Academy in West Baltimore after learning that the school faced closure.

Pugh said sports can offer a way to learn how to be “competitive without being combative.”

“It also teaches character, which really is a great thing,” the mayor said.

Paul Caccamo, the founder and CEO of Up2Us, said the group wants to partner with the city’s parks department and school system to place coaches but no deals have yet been signed.

Caccamo founded the organization in 2010. Since then it has placed more than 2,000 coaches in struggling communities, reaching an estimated 400,000 children. The group’s approach is based on demonstrating to young people that athletic skills can help them deal with violence they often encounter in their communities.

The Baltimore chpater of Up2Us will be lead by Sinclair Eaddy, who previously worked at a nonprofit connected to professional golf that also worked with young people.

Caccamo said he took a bus to Baltimore from New York to attend the announcement and asked the person next to him where he was from. Baltimore, the man said.

“I love Baltimore, he’s like I’m really proud of being from Baltimore,” he said. “It struck me you guys we odn’t hear that so much about places so much anymore.”

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