Memphis Gridiron Ministries provides football and mentoring to boys ages 8 to 12 in the Binghampton neighborhood. The organization began in 2013, choosing Binghampton because its leaders saw a neighborhood that lacked football programming for its students. When the program first began, organizers considered eventually expanding to other neighborhoods after building a foundation in Binghampton. But they decided to keep the focus in Binghampton as they saw the desire for positive adult relationships for the neighborhood’s children.
“We’re committed to Binghampton. We love the community we’re in. It’s helped create a sense of pride in the neighborhood,” said Stone Pannell, executive director of Memphis Gridiron Ministries. “On Saturday mornings, kids who have aged out of the program still come and watch games. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Memphis Gridiron Ministries has two football teams for children ages 8 to 12. The younger kids make up the Dogs and the older players are the Bulls. Combined, this Binghampton Bulldogs football program typically serves about 60 players who suit up for the fall season that begins in August and runs through November. The team is open to players from anywhere in Memphis, but the focus is on students who attend Binghampton area schools W.H. Brewster, Cornerstone Prep and Lester Prep, and Snowden Elementary. In addition to the students who play during the season, there are about 30 active alumni. These former players stay around the program and participate in other activities, from field trips to retreats. Players also participate in an NFL-style combine during the spring, a fun opportunity to compete in activities such as a 40-yard dash and vertical jump.
“The kids we work with, so many people have preconceived ideas about them,” Pannell said. “Our kids have the opportunity to grow. They have the opportunity to come to our programming and be a kid for a couple of hours while they’re there. We want to give them a safe space to feel empowered and encouraged through what we do. I’ve seen that change our children’s lives and I began to reflect on adults who spent time in my life when I was a kid. I had caring mentors and teachers. I know how much that impacted me. Our vision is to be that specifically for the kids in Binghampton.”
Binghampton Development Corp. leases the land Memphis Gridiron Ministries uses for $1 a year. Known as The Hamp, the football field is maintained by volunteers and thanks to generous donations of time by lawn care professionals. Donations are important for the success of Memphis Gridiron Ministries. There is no cost for players to participate, but football helmets and equipment aren’t cheap. The organization appreciates equipment donations as well as financial contributions that make the program possible. “We want our kids to have the best equipment possible,” Pannell said. “We don’t want them to look any different than teams we’re playing against. The only things that we ask from our kids is that they are consistently present and that they are attentive at practice. We hold kids accountable with their behavior and academics.” Pannell regularly visits schools, and students receive academic tutoring twice a week before practice at Carpenter Art Garden.
Memphis Gridiron Ministries welcomes volunteers interested in coaching or assisting with tutoring or other program needs. For more information about the program or how to contribute, visit mgmfootball.org.
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