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North Side Youth Football Titans: A Diverse Team United By Pigskin

By Justin Breen | October 7, 2013 7:47am
 The North Side Titans Youth Football team plays its home games at Lane Tech High School and practices at Welles Park in Lincoln Square.
North Side Youth Football
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LINCOLN SQUARE — If the United Nations fielded a football team, it might look something like the North Side Titans.

The Titans are a youth football squad with players ages 11-14 of European, Asian, African and Mexican descent. Their starting quarterback, Hamid Bullie is a Muslim who has a favorite target in wide receiver Eli Geleerd, who is Jewish.

"We've always loved to play football," Geleerd, 13, of Ravenswood and an eighth-grader at LaSalle Language Academy, said of his friendship with Bullie. "We just had a connection."

The Titans practice at Welles Park, and they play home games at Lane Tech High School. It costs $350 to join the Titans' North Side Youth Football league, which was created in 2006 and consists of a nine-game regular season and four rounds of playoffs, assistant coach Brad Hytrek said.

The Titans' 20-or-so players come from all over the world, and they live all over Chicago. City neighborhoods represented by the team include Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Mayfair, North Center, Old Town, Ravenswood, Rogers Park, Uptown and West Rogers Park.

"Pretty much the whole North Side," said Hytrek, 46, of West Rogers Park. "We've had some kids from the South Side in the past, too."

Alumni have gone on to compete for numerous high school football programs including Lane Tech, Taft, Mather, Lake View, Loyola Academy, Mt. Carmel, Lincoln Park. St. Ignatius, Whitney Young and Walter Payton.

Before he joined the Titans two years ago, Guiovanni Hernandez, 13, of Uptown knew only the basics of football. Now the fullback/outside linebacker and eighth-grader at Greeley Elementary said he "can actually have a conversation about football and play fantasy football and have fun doing it."

Hernandez, whose mom and dad are from Mexico, also said he loves having football as a common bond with his teammates.

"We just all come together and work as a team, and we all base ourselves as our nationality as human," he said.

That point was echoed by Abdoulaye Barry of Edgewater, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Swift Elementary. The Titans' nose guard, whose parents grew up in the African capital city of Conakry, Guinea, said he considers the Titans "a big family."

"We all get along, even though we're from different places," said Barry, in his fourth year with the team. "We all respect each other."

The players also have a great deal of reverence for the coaching staff, which is led by head coach Dan Bordonaro, of Mayfair.

First-year Titan Nicholas Galvin, 11, said the coaches make the practices and games "fun, which makes you like football more." The sixth-grader at Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School said the relaxed atmosphere also helps the Titans jell as a team.

"On a lot of sports, the coaches are always yelling at you, but that isn't the case here," said Galvin, of Old Town, a fullback/defensive tackle whose mother is from China. "We have a very special relationship and bond together."