It wouldn’t be accurate to say “there’s nothing for kids to do in Waxahachie.” And that’s because the Waxahachie Youth Athletic Association is a year-round program for children ages 4-12, with more than 400 participants.
The group was established in 2015 and offers football, basketball, track and cheering. This past week, the Sun had an opportunity to visit with several WYAA board members, who were happy to share what all is going on with the nonprofit organization.
On hand were board president Phelp Benjamin, vice president Mike Langford, secretary Karen Henley, treasurer Nicole Benjamin, head of fundraising Tiffany Nava and basketball president Dequavius Robinson. Board members who were unable to attend are track president Adrian Cooper, who also pastors Waxahachie Life Church, cheer president Jessica Lopez and coaching director Robert Nava.
As the group visited with the Sun, many comments were made in agreement: “We volunteer our time,” “It’s our life,” “Our coaches pick up kids and give them rides,” “We help them get the equipment they need” and – perhaps the group’s most important sentiment – “These are our kids.”
The board members are all friends and they all have a love and passion for what they are doing, telling the Sun that the WYAA’s work “is much more” to them than sports. There is mentorship involved, with part of the group’s goals being to teach the children and youth respect for others, discipline, personal responsibility, teamwork, sportsmanship and the value of hard work.
“We are trying to change lives,” said Langford, who often goes to the schools to eat pizza with the players. “We use sports as a tool to guide young people to be better and we are building character. I played college football and I know what it gave to me and I want to give those things to the kids. I love the community building that goes on within our community.”
Henley became involved in the program when her son wanted to play football.
“The kids enjoy doing this and so do the parents,” she said. “We have good parent support.”
Broad learning experience
In addition to instruction from their coaches, the association also has football camps for its participants where it brings in college players or current high school coaches to teach football techniques.
The children and youth also learn from each other. As an example, at track meets, the younger ones are often helped by their older teammates.
“This program allows the kids to accomplish something together,” Robinson said. “It teaches the kids the importance of teamwork.”
In fact, youth who age out of the program often come to the events to stand on the sideline and support those who are playing.
The football teams play in the Brazos Valley League, which includes teams from Waxahachie, Hillsboro, Burleson, Cleburne, Midlothian, Red Oak, Crowley, Whitney, Granbury and Ferris. This past season, the games were played at Life School in Waxahachie.
Starting this fall, the teams will play at the T.C. Wilemon STEAM Academy field. It’s a nine-week regular season that starts Labor Day weekend, with playoffs ending after Thanksgiving.
A growing program
This year, the WYAA has taken on more children and youth – and plans to keep them busy.
“The kids don’t just do nothing,” Phelp Benjamin said. “We have sports programs year-round. We find joy in being able to impact our community in a good way. It’s good to see boys and girls interacting with each other.”
WYAA teaches its participants life goals, Nicole Benjamin said, adding, “We are hard on them but we love them. They know us as humans, not just as coaches. They light up our lives and we light up their lives and we are so happy to have them.”
She keeps an eye out for those who aren’t doing what they should be doing but grins as she explains, “In a good-natured way, I call them out and keep them on their toes. We demand a lot from them. We are hard on them and hold them accountable (for example) if they don’t have their equipment with them. We instill personal responsibility in them.”
The children and youth are expected to do their part whether at WYAA or elsewhere. As an example, if a participant gets in trouble at school, the discipline is carried over to the team with what is called “the get right program,” which means extra running.
Nava has high praises for WYAA.
“At one time I had three kids in the program,” she said. “We enjoy it very much and the kids in the program get so much out of it.”
The association utilizes fundraising activities such as raffles, car washes and brownie nights at Fuzzy’s Tacos in Waxahachie. Major sponsors listed on the organization’s website are Whataburger, DLT Manufacturing Inc. and the Salvation Army of Ellis County.
If a family cannot afford to pay the fees for their children to participate, the association finds a sponsor for them. Donations from the community are welcome and much appreciated in ensuring that anyone who wants to participate can do so, the board said.
As a 501(c)3, donations are tax-deductible.
For more information on the Waxahachie Youth Athletic Association, visit its website at wyaatomahawks.org or call Phelp Benjamin at 469-300-9922. All adults who are involved as volunteers or coaches, or who have field access, are vetted, with background checks done.