Neighbors: Community kickball closes out another successful season

 Educators Londell Anderson (left) and Tyrone Johnson have brought hundreds to North Commons Park each summer Sunday for the Squad of Players Adult Kickball League.  Photo by David Pierini

Educators Londell Anderson (left) and Tyrone Johnson have brought hundreds to North Commons Park each summer Sunday for the Squad of Players Adult Kickball League. Photo by David Pierini

Every Sunday afternoon in the summer, the baseball diamond in North Commons Park is packed with a multi-generational crowd of kickball players and their devoted spectators. Camp chairs encircle the backstop, food is served hot off grills, ice cream trucks make their way down the block, and the kickball competition is fierce but friendly. 

Founded five years ago by Tyrone Johnson and Londell Anderson, the Squad of Players Adult Kickball League has quietly become one of the biggest community events in North Minneapolis during the summer. This year, 12 co-ed adult teams competed in a 12 week season. Hundreds turned out to watch. Community violence created more than one tragic moment, yet the league perservered. 

This month, Anderson and Johnson discussed how the league came to be and how it's building community amidst some major challenges.

By Kenzie O'Keefe

How did the league begin? Londell: Back in 2014, Tyrone called me and told me he got the field over at North Commons and said he wanted to start some kickball. I got a team in and he got a couple other teams in and we started with four adult teams. Tyrone: A lot of us are teachers, mentors and coaches, and a lot of us never had time to hang out with each other. I wanted to do something where we could get a chance to hang out with each other and show the kids how they’re really supposed to compete.

On your Facebook page, you wrote that 75% of the adults out here are educators. Does that still seem about right? Tyrone: Oh yeah. Teachers, mentors, coaches, deans of students, principals. I’m a teacher at City View Elementary. Londell: I’m a football coach at North High.

Kids are out here playing too. How did they get involved? Tyrone: They’re out here all the time. They love what we’re doing and they wanted to be a part of it. This is an adult kickball league; the youth teams play on Saturdays. The Park Board loves what we’re doing and they wanted to branch off of us. Londell: Most of these kids out here, their parents play in our league. 

Why kickball and not some other sport? Tyrone: It was something different. We coach basketball, baseball, football, soccer even sometimes. We wanted to do something different: an elementary game that really gets people together.

 The Renegades, right, didn't make it out of the first round of the playoffs when they faced Dominator's Reloaded.  Photo by David Pierini

The Renegades, right, didn't make it out of the first round of the playoffs when they faced Dominator's Reloaded. Photo by David Pierini

You started in 2014, has it just steadily grown into what it is now – 12 teams and hundreds of spectators? Londell: Teams get formed by individuals or groups that want to put teams together. Every year it just got bigger and bigger. Some of our teams have sponsors for uniforms. It’s pretty open for anybody. Tyrone: as long as its coed. Every team has to have at least three females playing at all times. There can be up to 15 players per team.

Why is it important for teams to be coed? Tyrone: so we can get everybody involved. Not just males on males or females on females. We wanted everybody to get along with everybody.

Londell: Kickball is for everybody, as you can see. The young, the old. Our oldest player is 57. We have young players as young as 18. There’s a real wide range of players in this league. That’s why you get everybody out here. The grandmas, the little kids, kids coming back from college kicking it with their families. It’s a good thing.

What do you want to bring to this community through kickball? Tyrone: I love the family reunion atmosphere. It’s about people coming out, socializing with each other, networking if they get a chance to. They can show their faces instead of using Facebook. We’re on social media too much now. We’re always on our phones. It’s hard for us to even interact with each other sometimes. This brings us together.

What have been some of the highlights in your five seasons of existence as a league? Tyrone: Seeing it grow. Seeing the community come out and supporting us the way they do. Sunday, July 29, was amazing to me. The whole community came out. There was a stage. The churches came out. They were singing and all that. A little bit of me hates it, because it was for a negative [reason – Nathen Hampton’s death during league games week before]. But the community made it into a positive and made a bright story out of what this this.

Has kickball changed since Nate’s death? Will you or are you already doing things differently because of his death?  Tyrone: Nate’s death wasn’t about kickball at all. We might have a little more security present or what not. We know as teams and individuals and community members and leaders around here, we need to secure our space as well. We shouldn’t just look for police to police us all the time. We can police ourselves in ways that benefit our community as well and let em know we’re not tolerating the nonsense over here.

What’s up with the food? Tyrone: It’s bring your own food and grill out here. August 5 was All Star Sunday and the first annual Mama T’s rib cook off. It was our fourth year doing an All Star rib cook-off but we switched the name for my mom who passed away. The kickball winners and the rib cook-off winners get trophies. We have competitions as well – furthest kick, fastest to first base, things like that. We have both male and female awards for that. 

What else do you want the community to know about kickball and what you’re trying to do with the league? Londell: the old traditional Northside is still here. Back in the days when we had the old functions, the parades down Plymouth Ave and all that. The old school Juneteenth where the atmosphere was just good with vendors and things. That atmosphere still exists out here.

 Competition is fierce on kickball Sundays but so is the love players have for their family and friends.  Photo by David Pierini

Competition is fierce on kickball Sundays but so is the love players have for their family and friends. Photo by David Pierini

What do you think has changed? Why do people need reminding that that still exists? Londell: I think it has a lot to do with the perception of what goes on around here that’s put on TV. If all you see is negative about something, that’s all you know. They need to highlight more of this stuff. Realistically, it’s tragic what happened to Nate Hampton. We love him. But I think a lot of people should have came out here before that happened. We embrace all of them. I’m not trying to say nothing. But we’re here. Tyrone: it’s our fifth year. Come on out and enjoy some community fun. That’s all we ask.

If people want to get involved next year, what should they do? Tyrone: Look us up on Facebook – Squad of Players Adult Kickball League.

Kenzie O'Keefe