As seen at the
Tampa Bay Times.
The Childs Park Rattlers flag team practices on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, in St.Petersburg. The 4-6 year olds typically practice four times a week and play a game each Saturday during the season.
Patricia Hampton and Ruthie Green-Maynard were team moms when they joined the then-Childs Park Junior Rattlers in 1995. Over 27 years, as coaches have come and gone, a grant helped the program get a home field at the Childs Park Sports Complex, and Hampton, 56, and Green-Maynard, 63, became president and vice president.
In the beginning there was football, cheerleading, basketball, tennis, track and a marching band. When parental commitment and sponsorships waned, most of those tracks split off or fell apart and only football and cheerleading remain.
There are four teams: flag, mighty mites, pee-wee and juniors, and they serve kids from ages 4 to 14. Coaches often cover registrations for families that can’t afford the fees, which along with uniforms can top $150. They balance coaching with day jobs and personal lives, picking up the slack where needed.
During the regular season, which starts in June, the coaches teach plays or a cheer routine, run concessions, celebrate wins and console through losses, mentor and lead.
The Rattlers’ pee-wee team just exited in the third round of the playoffs, and registration information for the new season is available on the program’s
Vice president Ruthie Green-Maynard, or “Miss Ruthie,” stepped up to lead this year’s cheerleading teams after a coach left the program, a constant issue. The turnovers put pressure on the remaining coaches and make it harder for Miss Ruthie to retire from the program. She recently retired from working a day job after an attack by her ex-husband severely injured her.
Coach Alfreddie Jones, 63, works with the Childs Park Rattlers Pee Wee team on Sept. 15. “My coaching philosophy is, lead by example,” said Jones, who is a construction supervisor with the City of St. Petersburg. At least 10 of the kids he’s coached over the years have joined him working for the city. “I’m just like a role model for them,” he said. The pee wee team recently became District 2 Division 2 champions.
Kyrie Young, 7, reaches for an opponent’s flag during a flag football home game on Sept. 17. Sometimes multiple kids don’t show up on game day, creating a coaching dilemma.
Ky’Rhen Parker, 11, looks for an opening to throw the ball while playing for the pee wee team on Sept. 24. Coach Alfreddie Jones said parent and coach commitment is the biggest key to success, something he wishes the program had more of.
President Patricia Hampton, or “Miss Pat,” takes phone calls daily while managing the program, going to the field each night until 9 p.m. The Friday before game day is for preparing and seasoning meats for concessions. Saturdays she checks in with coaches and makes sure all is running smoothly. Sometimes she tutors the kids in schoolwork as well as keeping up her work with foster kids. Her days are long. “I’ve tried to get people to take my place,” said Miss Pat. “This is nothing that we can make money from.”
The Childs Park Rattlers junior team huddles during a home game on Sept. 17.
The Childs Park Rattlers mighty mites fight for possession of the football against the Greenwood Panthers on Sept. 17.
The Childs Park Rattlers mighty mites do a drill with their coach, Bonita Copeland, 53, on Sept. 17. Copeland, who works as a school bus driver, said she loves to watch kids who’ve never played football grow as they learn the sport. “You can see their face light up,” she said.
Rashad De’Veon Williams, 11, takes a water break while playing for the junior team on Sept. 24. The junior team players became the oldest in the program after the senior team, for boys 13-14, was cut because of ongoing disciplinary issues.
Cheerleaders get ready for their homecoming football game. “What we’re trying to do is to teach them people skills,” said Miss Ruthie. “You can see them coming out of their shell within the program.”
Deion Caldwell Jr., 6, stands in the backseat of Miss Ruthie’s Volkswagen during homecoming. Caldwell was crowned king and joined the homecoming court on a ride around the field during halftime. “I wanted to wow the kids,” said Miss Ruthie.
The Childs Park Rattlers flag team joins a cheer with the Zephyrhills flag team on Sept. 24.
Ruthie Green-Maynard, “Miss Ruthie,” embraces a photo of her daughter, Marqueita LaRae’ Maynard, at home on Oct. 10. Miss Ruthie’s ex-husband attacked the two women with a knife, police said, injuring Miss Ruthie and killing Marqueita the day after her 34th birthday in 2019. The ex-husband is awaiting trial.
Miss Ruthie embraces a photo of her daughter, Marqueita LaRae’ Maynard, at home on Oct. 10. Marqueita, who served as choreographer during cheer competition season, didn’t always understand her mother’s commitment to the Rattlers but Miss Ruthie cited her love for her daughter as inspiration for her work with the program. “We want to show those kids that kind of love,” she’d told Marqueita. “At least a smidgen of it.
Miss Pat passes out flyers following a practice on Sept. 21. “You got to stick to here,” said Miss Pat of coaching the program, adding that coaches who stay have loyalty and commitment in common. “Just like marriage; through thick and thin.”
(From left) Marquel Henry, Patricia Hampton, Alfreddie Jones and Bonita Copeland meet after practice on Sept. 13. “It takes a family because we’ll fuss and fight,” said Miss Pat. “But we know we got a job to do. And we’ll come right back and go to the drawing board again.”
Often the last one to go home, Miss Pat turns off the lights. “I know we can be better,” she said. “And that’s what keeps me thriving.”