The Reisterstown Mustangs have surpassed their $6,000 fundraising goal, with some help from Ray Lewis. A donation from the former Raven will help send 140 youth football players to an out-of-state tournament after a Carroll County league banned them from the playoffs.
Rachel Bullock, whose 8-year-old son plays for the Mustangs, said the money from a GoFundMe drive will pay for buses, hotel rooms, food and participation fees for the kids — a handful of whom are living in a homeless shelter. By Sunday afternoon, the campaign had brought in about $4,000 and reached people from as far away as London and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Lewis’s donation of $1,000, plus others Sunday, helped bring them over the top.
Marquita M. Melvin, who started the GoFundMe drive, said her son “lost his whole mind” when he saw the donation from Lewis. Another parent took a screenshot of the donation and shared it on Facebook. Even though Lewis retired before most of them began watching football, the Mustangs “still know exactly who he is,” said Melvin. “He’s a huge figure to these kids.”
Melvin said she was touched by Lewis’ donation. “It just means a lot when someone is willing to stand up for these kids and not worry about potential backlash.”
There may be yet more money left to raise, however. Melvin said the Mustangs were just invited to play at the Pro Football Hall of Fame World Youth Championship in Ohio.
“I clearly saw none of this coming,” Melvin said Sunday night. “I’m happy to see that people really do care. … Love is triumphing over hate. The good people are outnumbering the people who are not so good.”
$50 was donated by Laura Peters of Manchester, whose 11-year-old stepson plays for the North Carroll Titans, an opposing team in the Carroll County league. “In our age group, they were the best team,” she said. “It seems like the boys should get a chance to play.”
The teams were invited to participate in tournaments in Delaware, Georgia and Ohio after the Carroll County Youth Football and Cheer League voted to exclude the Reisterstown players from all postseason games, despite the fact that six of the Baltimore County teams qualified. Many say they believe racism was a factor — the six Mustangs teams are majority black while the other 10 organizations in the Carroll County league are majority white.
Efforts to reach officials from the Carroll league were unsuccessful. The league provides no contact information on its website and its Facebook page appears to be deleted.
Representatives for USA Football, the sport’s national governing body, also did not respond to a request for comment.
The Carroll league previously issued a statement that said the Reisterstown teams were being banned for “behavioral concerns,” although no details on specific incidents were offered. It said the league “elected not to risk the safety of the participants and in an attempt to promote a safe conclusion to the season, the league’s programs voted to remove the Reisterstown program at the end of the regular season and prior to the playoffs.”
Peters, the Manchester donor, said that in the one game the Mustangs played against her stepson’s team, she “saw absolutely nothing” that would indicate bad behavior.
Mustangs’ president Melvin said the outreach the Reisterstown teams have received boosted the children’s spirits. Besides the donations, she said Morgan State University invited the players — who are ages 5 to 13 — to attend their Saturday game against Delaware State University and the youth football program’s Facebook followers have grown from about 400 to nearly 1,000.
“It had us awestruck,” Melvin said. “We’re trying to make sure these kids have a happy ending for this season.”
The parents of the players have chosen to discuss the abrupt end to the season in individual ways, Melvin said. Still, whether they were told what their parents’ understanding or suspicions were about the league’s reasoning or motivations, she said the kids were distraught.
“Kids have a really clear understanding of fairness, probably better than adults because we have a lot of gray areas,” Melvin said “Kids know when something is not fair and when someone is being mean.”
The board of directors for the Carroll league — which includes 10 other programs — voted unanimously to sever ties with the Mustangs, which were on probationary status because it was the program’s first year in the league. The other programs come from three counties, including five programs from Carroll, three from Montgomery and two from Baltimore.
The league posted a letter in late October explaining their decision on its Facebook page.
Melvin said the Mustangs have had no further communication with the league. She said the Reisterstown teams were not told about the vote to ban their players until it was over. She said no one from the league discussed any behavior concerns with the Mustangs. One 11-year-old Reisterstown player was suspended for two games after running into a player while trying to block the other team’s kicker. She said the incident was due to the player’s inexperience, not malicious misconduct.
One of the Mustangs’ six teams went undefeated for the year.
The 40-year-old Reisterstown program moved to the Carroll County league, because the games were closer for the players. In previous leagues, they had to travel farther from week to week.
Melvin said the program has been invited to join other area leagues but has not made a decision about where the boys will play next year.
“We’ve been around for a long time and Reisterstown football is going to continue to be there,” she said.
Bullock, one the program’s “team moms,” said she told her son that the teams could not play in any postseason games because they needed to take on new challengers, outside the league. She said she did not want to tell him that she believes the decision was driven by racism.
Her son is recovering from pneumonia after playing his last Carroll league game in the rain and mud. The other team, also in the Carroll league, joined the Mustangs on their sideline because the other one was too sloppy. The parents and the players spent the game talking and laughing, and in the end all the children shook hands.
“We did not know this was going to be our last game playing with them,” Bullock said. “I had no clue it was going to end this way.
“The kids are absolutely devastated, especially my son. He dreams football.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.