PALMETTO -- As some youth football players participated in their homecoming game, others sat on the sidelines. Outside, a local community activist and minister hosted a unity event. It all took place amid fears and rumors circulating as to why so many teams have recently forfeited games at the Palmetto youth center in the wake of a recent shooting.
Saturday's scheduled football games at the center at 501 17th St. W., marked the end of the season and homecoming games for Palmetto's youth teams. But only one team got to actually play, however, as the others' opponents forfeited.
This is not the first time the center has dealt with recent forfeitures. Since the Sept. 21 shooting that occurred on the street in front of the center, many visiting teams have backed out of their games, leaving many in the community believing they are afraid to come to the Palmetto youth center.
"I was informed through the league," Athletic Director Tony Stephens said. "I was told they didn't
have enough kids."
Herman Cadena, host of a Christian radio show on WWPR 1490 AM, felt that the fears and misconceptions were cause for a call to unite the community. Cadena broadcasted his show from just outside the gates to the football field, hoping to promote not only community unity but also action.
"We need to do something," Cadena said. "We need to show other communities that this is a safe place."
Cadena, a parent himself, said he was broke hearted that so many of the kids did not get to play their homecoming game.
"We are trying to do what we can," Cadena said. "It's sad to see the kids here ready to get started."
The head coach of the visiting West Pasco Prowlers, however, said the shooting had nothing to do with why three of its four teams did not come to play. Shawn Desrosiers said injuries were the biggest reason the teams were left with fewer players than required to play.
Team mom Stacey Van Schenck said she had no concerns regarding the shooting.
"Any field can be unsafe, it can happen anywhere," she said. "The conversation was never about safety."
Despite the reason, many children left disappointed as they left the field unable to play their final game.
"He wanted to play this morning," said one grandmother of her grandson. "All of the teams should have been able to."
Many, like Monique Rose, still believe all the forfeitures are as a result of people's fears since the shooting.
"It's a shame, it didn't happen inside where the kids were playing," Rose said. "This is the first time anything like this occurred."
Palmetto Commissioner Charles Smith was at Saturday's game to show his support and hoped to ease the rumors regarding the cancellation of many of the games.
"There is no debate that the children are safe here and that this field is safe to play," Smith said. "A lie unchallenged becomes true."
Smith said there is always a police presence at the games. Saturday's homecoming game had a total of four Palmetto police officers at the park.
"When you cancel games, it hurts the children," Smith said. "We cannot allow that to happen."
Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.