South Shore Drill Team faces financial hardship

June 3, 2010 3:32:59 PM PDT
As the South Shore Drill Team celebrates 30 years at the Chicago Theatre, organizers worry they may have to cut programs that help hundreds of children.The South Shore Drill Team, southshoredrillteam.org, practices daily at the Gary Comer Youth Center on city's Southeast Side.

"I stayed with the drill team because it taught me a lot of things. It taught me how to have self-discipline," said David Myers III, 16, who has been on the team for 4 years.

"You get to go out of Chicago and Illinois. You get to go a lot of different places and also at the same time, they teach you responsibility," said Shavona Edwards, 15, who has been on the team for 7 years.

The group serves about 350 students between the ages of eight and 21.

"I definitely notice a change in the girls and the boys. The boys are becoming less hostile, I would say and the girls are becoming more ladylike," said Brittany Smith, 20, who has been on the team for 5 years.

Despite conditions at the no-frills practice space, most of these students say they would rather twirl flags under a leaky roof than consider the alternative.

"I would've been hanging out with the rougher guys around my house, basically. I would've been out there every day," said Rodney Nelson, 17, who has been on the team for 4 years.

The drill team has been a staple in Chicago for the past three decades. Not a Bud Billiken Day Parade goes by without the famed group. That's when they unveil new uniforms for the year. Members are expected to pay $150 to cover costs. Only about half can afford to pay.

"We eat up almost 75% of all of the costs," said Stella Natufe, events coordinator, South Shore Drill Team. "For a group similar to ours, like in a suburban neighborhood, they would pay almost $1,500 just to be a part of a program like this for only three months. Our program is year-round."

That's just one of the issues contributing to the team's financial woes. Fewer grants and no corporate sponsorships have left them $75,000 in debt. The group has already cut staff.

Michael Borum has been with the organization for 22 years. He started as a cadet and is now assistant director. He hopes services to children never have to be cut. He says the group saved his life. He believes it's saving countless others.

"We have 300 and something kids and I just tell anybody, picture 300 and something kids out doing nothing," said Borum.

The South Shore Drill Team, southshoredrillteam.org, will perform Saturday, June 5 at the Chicago Theatre. Showtime is 7:30pm. Tickets are $30.


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