For kids in the Norfolk neighborhood of Berkley, the football field is often one of the few places safe from gun violence. Just as he has for the past two decades, Glen Yearling prepares the Berkley Timberwolves for the 2021 season, aiming to win on the gridiron and instill his players with a sense of discipline, belonging and hope.
Story by Olivia George with photos by Trent Sprague

Glen Yearling, coach of the Berkley Timberwolves, drives around Norfolk, Va. before a practice on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, picking up kids who lack transportation to the practice field in the Norfolk neighborhood of Berkley. During Yearling's two and a half hour drive, a former player calls, asking for help. He’s homeless, sleeping in someone’s garage and needs a pump to blow up his air mattress. “Brother, I got you,” Glen Yearling says, shifting his van into drive. “Just give me until after practice. Around 10:30 p.m. Then I’ll see what I can do.”

A player with the Berkley Timberwolves watches out the window after being picked up by coach Glen Yearling prior to a practice on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. Before practice, Yearling hitches a trailer of football equipment to his van and leaves his house in Norfolk's Berkley neighborhood to pick up approximately the dozen players who lack a consistent mode of transportation to and from the practice field.

Elias Williams, center, punches an older player while riding to a Berkley Timberwolves practice on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. After a few moments, Larry Williams, Elias' dad and an assistant coach for the Timberwolves, yells from the passenger seat for everybody to settle down.

Jahkari Allen, age 7, stands on the sidewalk near the corner of Campostella and East Indian River Road in Norfolk, Va. on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, while working a donation drive for the Berkley Timberwolves. “When it’s green, I hydrate. Then, when it’s red, I go straight back to fundraising,” Allen said, lifting a bottle of water to his lips just as the light changed color and the cars came to a halt. Lacking sponsors, the Timberwolves gather at the intersection on Fridays to cajole loose change from drivers stuck at red lights in order to purchase uniforms, pads and helmets and stretch the teams shoestring budget further.

Larry Williams, assistant coach for the Berkley Timberwolves, helps a player find a pair of shoes prior to practice on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. Although cleats are supposed to be provided by the players' parents, Williams and head coach Glen Yearling went to a local sporting goods store earlier in the week to ensure no players went without. “Look,” Williams said, pulling a pair down that still had clumps of dirt on the soles. “Pretty good deal,” Yearling replied. The coaches were experts at doing a lot with a little, stretching their donation dollars as far as possible.

Several players for the Berkley Timberwolves reach into a trailer attached to head coach Glen Yearling's van for a football prior to practice on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. For the past two decades, the Timberwolves, a youth football team in Norfolk's Berkley neighborhood, has offered a safe space for children to learn a sense of discipline, belonging and hope.

Several Berkley Timberwolves players toss around a football prior to a Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021 practice. The Timberwolves, led by Glen Yearling, have offered a space for children between age 6-14 to learn the sport of football, and a sense of discipline, patience and community. At one corner of the practice field, a low-slung church that occasionally hands out popsicles to the players and recently had a leaky roof from a bullet hole.

Players with the Berkley Timberwolves, a youth football team lead by Glen Yearling, line up beneath a goal post prior to practice on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. For the past two decades, Yearling has offered the Timberwolves as a "safe haven" for local kids to hang out and safely blow off steam. But occasionally the "safe haven" of the practice field is punctured by the violent forces the coaches try so desperately to keep at bay. There have been times when gunfire rang out, lurking in the shadows beyond the field’s fluorescent lights. Yearling yells for everyone to get down. And the children lay still, their faces smushed against the grass, waiting for Coach Glen to tell them it’s safe to rise once more.

An older player of the Berkley Timberwolves leads a group run around Berkley Park on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021 prior to a practice. “This field is our safe haven,” 27-year-old Harlequinn Waddell, a former player of Yearlings, said as players began a set of jumping jacks, before adding, “It’s more than just coaching. It’s somebody that actually cares. It’s love."

Glen Yearling, coach of the Berkley Timberwolves, high-fives players while they run laps prior to a practice in Norfolk, Va. on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. “You cut corners now, you going to be cutting corners for the rest of your life," Yearling said to one player who tried to make the lap a little shorter. Yearling, who tries to help instill a sense of discipline, of belonging and hope into the players, has occasionally dipped into his own pockets to make sure his players don’t go without. There were times when he took buckets to gas-station bathrooms, filling them with water to bathe when he bought team jerseys instead of paying his bills.