Wednesday, June 30, 2010

South Shore Drill Team Provides Different Avenue

While news from Chicago report of dozens of shootings on the first weekend in April 2010, a group of teenage boys gather on a basketball court in a tough South Side neighborhood called the Pocket and picked up their rifles. This was the end of an especially bloody few days in Chicago as police crime scene tape hung from the South Side to the West Side. In 26 hours 41 people had been shot, 3 dead.

And so these boys pick up their rifles and began another four-hour practice session of a unique youth group, the South Shore Drill Team and Performing Arts Ensemble. The group was designed as an alternative to gang activity, high school drop outs, and teen pregnancy. The group offers young people an opportunity to develop self-esteem, self-discipline, goals for their future, and a chance to travel. The South Shore Drill Teams repertoire includes contemporary music, jazz, hip-hop, modern dance numbers and more.

Since 1980, the drill team has been providing boys and girls, ages 9 to 21, with a highly disciplined and choreographed alternative to the street. Team members use wooden mock rifles, hip-hop music and modern dance moves in their performances, which have taken them from Morocco to Walt Disney World to the annual back-to-school Bud Billiken Parade down Chicago’s Martin Luther King Drive.

In 2009, the team performed at 130 events in nine states. This past June 5, the team marked its 30th anniversary with a night of performances at the Chicago Theater. Although many on the drill team come from struggling families and from schools where sometimes up to half the students drop out before the 12th grade, 99.5 percent of the members graduate from high school and many go on to college, said Arthur Robertson, the former Chicago public school teacher who founded the team with only four boys, two of whom were his nephews. Now, its membership has grown to about 350. The team recently participated in the 33rd annual drill team and color guard world championships —the Winter Guard International — in Dayton, Ohio, where more than 300 teams from across the United States and four other countries were entered. The South Shore team won the championship in 1992.

Some parents of these boys allow them out of the house only to attend team practices and events. They want to keep them as safe as possible. The boys feel trapped in their rough neighborhoods; they can’t go outside and be regular children. Here you can be. Without groups like this, many of the boys would be headed down a path of fast-money dreams and jailhouse nightmares. Instead they now spend days learning how to twirl a mock rifle high into the air, do a back flip and catch the rifle without missing a step as they parade. For some, the drill team has saved their life.

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