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While much of the football spotlight this time of year is on the Cleveland Browns, Ohio State Buckeyes and suburban high school teams, there’s another football program worth noticing. 

I’m talking about the Cleveland muny football league, which provides thousands of young kids with sports and life lessons. But how much do you really know about it? 

A year ago, I started a video project to look beyond the cliches and surface view of Cleveland youth sports. What I found was a remarkable story about a unique team of players and coaches trying to do something never done before.  

The project chronicled the first year of a football team made up of 12-year-olds from two rival Cleveland neighborhoods. The merger was the idea of longtime coaches and league coordinators who were faced with a shortage of players. Their goal: Build a winning squad and build bonds that extend beyond the field.  

The team included players from the Garden Valley Falcons and the Renegades (whose players come from Outhwaite, Carver Park and other public housing estates in the Central neighborhood). The team practiced twice a week at both Garden Valley and at Lonnie Burten’s Dwayne Broward Field near East 55th street. 

The new team was named Ward 5 United, which is a reference to the political boundary that encompasses both teams.  

Coaches Danny Solomon, Codell Gaines, Desmond Stanley, Dontez Howard and Tevin Davis welcomed me and offered me full access. League officials, including Mike Hardway, Howard Little and Joe Wise Jr., also provided invaluable perspective, as did former Renegades player and now-Ward 5 Council Member Richard Starr. 

Above is a trailer for the finished film, which Signal Cleveland will release in September. The film has been selected as a featured documentary at next month’s Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival and at October’s Chagrin Documentary Film Festival. 

I hope you enjoy the preview. 

Managing Editor, News (he/him)
Mark is a veteran journalist with experience in alternative media, print, digital and television news. For 19 years, he was a groundbreaking reporter and metro columnist with The Plain Dealer and Most recently, Mark spent three years as an investigative, enterprise and breaking news reporter at WKYC-TV, where his "Leading the Land" series on Cleveland's 2021 mayoral primary race earned a regional Emmy.