More Than A Coach
Baltimore magazine|Game Changers
Garrick Williams, the “Mayor of Park Heights,” teaches life lessons through football
Corey Mclaughlin

He's right. When you stand in the center of this football field in Northwest Baltimore, the grass framed by the backs of rowhouses, a pair of field-goal posts, and oak trees with leaves turning shades of yellow, orange, and red on a chilly late fall day, “You can feel the peace,” says Garrick Williams, the 62-year-old founder of the Park Heights Saints youth football program.

Widely known as the “Mayor of Park Heights,” a description he acknowledges with a wisecrack (“It ain’t an easy job,” he says), Williams, a one-time construction worker turned neighborhood do-gooder, is standing near the center of this piece of land in Lucille Park along Reisterstown Road on an early Friday evening in November. Twenty years ago, this was a notorious abandoned lot populated by drug dealers and addicts. And, even more recently, a bar used to operate on the park’s northeast corner, but it was razed seven years ago at Williams’ urging in favor of a parking lot. That’s where kids now get dropped off three nights a week for practices, led by Williams and dozens of other coaches, some of them former players, others former gang members, yet others Baltimore City police officers.

Not a fan of the cold, the “Mayor” is wearing several layers of Under Armour athletic gear, pants, and a knit hat and greets you with the dap of a lifelong friend. “That’s right, brother, that’s right,” he’s soon saying. Practice, for the Saints’ 10 teams made up of about 250 players ages 5 to 13, will start in an hour. So for now, Williams is happy to stroll around the field and soak up the scene, coach’s clipboard in hand.

He’s talking about the year’s worth of Jericho walks—meaning going seven times around the field—that community members did back in 2000 to take control of the field, when he pauses near the 50-yard line, his back to a setting sun, and puts the existence of this refuge in perspective. A quarter of the residents of zip code 21215, the primarily black neighborhood that abuts Pimlico Race Course, live in poverty, making it a breeding ground for violence, gang recruitment, and drug dealing in the surrounding houses and blocks.

“Things still go on in Park Heights, but it won’t go on here,” Williams says of the field. “This is like a sanctuary.”

Williams is a youth football coach with hundreds of children and roughly 45 coaches under his supervision per year but, without any hyperbole, he is much more. “To know him is to love him,” says Kiante Chase, an electrician from Dundalk and a father of three who coaches the Saints’ under11-year-old team.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

RELATED STORIES

UNITY IN A WORLD OF DIVERSITY

BRIAN JONES explores unity in a world full of challenges and diversity. Through different analogies and his own personal experience with meditation, he finds effective ways to achieve unity through the silence of the heart.

6 mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
May 2021

Hands Off My Football Team!

The European Super League followed a model shaped in the U.S. Opposition from fans scuttled the idea

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)

FOR TELEVISION, NFL DEAL IS LIKELY A MATTER OF SURVIVAL

The $113 billion deal to telecast NFL games through 2033 is head-swimmingly large — until you consider that the very survival of broadcast networks as we know them may depend upon it.

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #491

Q&A with Ron Rivera, Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney

Coach Ron Rivera, General Manager Martin Mayhew and Executive Vice President of Football/Player Personnel Marty Hurney met with the media via Zoom on Feb. 3 to discuss the direction of the new front office. The interview is edited for space.

5 mins read
Warpath
March 2021

Shoots from the hip

Robby Anderson said he wasn't “genuinely happy ” with the Jets at times

4 mins read
NY Jets Confidential
February/March 2021

What great culture looks like

Throughout the process of the Jets looking for a new coach, a buzzword we heard quite a bit was “culture.”

4 mins read
NY Jets Confidential
February/March 2021

‘We showed we're a winning organization'

Here are some highlights from head coach Sean McDermott’s season-ending press conference.

10+ mins read
Bills Digest
February 28, 2021

Douglas loves Saleh's integrity, passion

QUESTION SESSION WITH GM JOE DOUGLAS

4 mins read
NY Jets Confidential
February/March 2021

‘We have to be a much more detailed football team'

Like so many Raiders fans, coach Jon Gruden found himself searching for answers after the Raiders’ second-half collapse that cost the team a spot in the expanded playoffs.

7 mins read
Silver & Black Illustrated
February - March 2021

NFL's 1st & Future to Award $150,000 on Television Show

The NFL is bringing its awards for novel advancements in athletes’ safety and performance to television.

4 mins read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #483