East Bay Pop Warner teams struggle to fund flights
on November 18, 2010
Fredrick Pugh has a good problem. The president of the East Bay Warriors Pop Warner football and cheerleading program is trying to figure out how to get up to 178 little football players and cheerleaders to Orlando, Florida, next month for the Pop Warner national championships.
It’s a good thing, Pugh said, to have so many children to accommodate because it means the Warriors program—which fields nine football teams and six dance and cheer squads with participants ranging from 5 to 15 years old—has had a successful season. Four of the football teams are on the verge of qualifying for national championships. Two cheerleading squads and the dance team have already qualified.
In fact, the East Bay has so many teams potentially heading to Florida that the organization is having trouble coming up with enough money to send everyone. The estimated travel expense is $1,100 per child. If all the teams qualify for the national championships, that’s more than $195,000. Fundraising efforts have already brought in a good portion of the money, but the Warriors are still short about $40,000, Pugh said.
The fundraising target does not cover travel expenses for parents, who will be paying their own ways. During a practice on Tuesday, Pugh, wearing glasses and a beige three-piece suit, sat at a fold-out table stationed near a corner of the football field at West Oakland’s Raimondi Park. With stadium lights illuminating the field, a cheerleading squad practiced its cheers in an end zone. The football players were split into groups based on positions and ran drills at different stations. A junior peewee coach could be heard yelling at the linemen after each repetition of their contact drill.
Pugh, who is an AT&T wireless service manager when he’s not running Pop Warner football teams, was surrounded by five mothers trying to figure out their travel arrangements and find the best prices for flights. “I need look on Southwest.com,” said a mother, asking around if anyone had a smart phone so she could check out flight prices online.
Anticipating before the season started that some Warriors teams would be traveling to Florida, program organizers and parents began raising money in August. The children and parents have also raised money through pizza and cookie dough sales, dinner sales and a raffle for an iPad. “We’ve been doing everything and anything you can imagine,” Pugh said.
“We plan throughout the year,” Pugh said. “Then if it doesn’t work, then we have something to go over for next year.”
The Warriors are named after the McClymonds High School Warriors, not the Golden State Warriors basketball team. Each team in the organization has its own name, such as the Wolves, Wildcats or Wranglers. They are divided by age and size, and each team plays in a division against other teams in the area. The lowest of the six divisions, Tiny Mights, is for 5-to-7 year-olds. The Wolverines is for 9-to-11-year-olds. The highest division, Midget, is for 12-to-14 year-olds and 15-year-olds who weigh no more than 149 pounds.
While fundraising is a challenge this year, athletic success is nothing new to the Warriors program, which has sent at least one team to the Pop Warner national championships every year since 2002. “We’ve never finished worst than third,” Pugh said of the football teams that have competed for national championships. But, he added, “we’ve never won it. We’ve been there, we’ve been close, but no cigar.”
Last year, the Warriors sent just one football team, which finished third, and the dance team, which finished seventh. To parents and coaches, the dance team’s seventh place finish in the nation was a major accomplishment. To the dancers, it was a disappointment—and something to be improved upon. “We only finished seventh,” dancer Alana Carter, 12, said wistfully at Tuesday’s practice.
Dancer I’Yoshi Barnes, 13, tried to have a positive outlook on the experience. “It was good because I got to be with a group of girls I have fun with,” she said. “And we were lucky enough to go.”
Last weekend, all four Pop Warner football teams won their league playoff games at Andrew Hill High School in San Jose. This coming weekend, the junior midget team—the oldest age group—is the only one assured of a game for the regional playoffs, which draw from teams in Northern California and other states in the Pacific Northwest. Matchups for the other teams are pending, Pugh said. There is a possibility the other teams will forfeit, which would automatically qualify the East Bay teams for Orlando.
The trip, from Dececmber 2 to 12, will take the children out of school for more than a week. But that won’t affect their studies, Pugh said, because the East Bay program makes academics a priority. Each player, dancer, and cheerleader is required to maintain a 2.0 GPA throughout the school year. The Warriors have a 3.2 average GPA among all the children involved, Pugh said. In Orlando, they will have scheduled study halls, he said. “A good thing about this program, is if you ain’t got the grades, you ain’t going to play,” said Michael Woolridge, whose 11-year-old son, Michael Jr., plays on the Wolverines, one of two junior peewee teams run by the Warriors program.
Pugh said the academic standards help train the children to maintain their grades in order to stay eligible for sports as they grow up. “So when they get to high school or junior high, they’re already used to somebody monitoring their report card.”
That can carry into college, where many current Warriors players could eventually play and where many former Warriors have played or are playing. Some have gone on to play in the National Football League, most notably former UC Berkeley star and current Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.
Toni McElroy, the Wolverines’ designated “team mom,” said the academic expectations help her son, Donzel Brandy, 10, keep up with his school work. “He’s always trying to make sure his homework is done before practice,” she said.
At practice, Donzel was disappointed to find out his team won’t be playing this weekend at home because driving anywhere is “too far.” Donzel said he doesn’t like long car rides. Though going to Florida is a longer journey than any road game in Northern California, Donzel said the trip to the national championships would be easier. “We don’t drive,” he said. “On the airplane, everybody can fall asleep.”
While traveling might be a highlight for some players, the parents view it as an important experience for their children. Some team parents said many of the Pop Warner players would never leave Oakland if they weren’t traveling with the team for away games. “When they see stuff outside of Oakland, it gets them interested in what’s out there,” said Antonio Campbell, whose 10-year-old son, Komarii Jackson, plays for the Wolverines. “It’s just a good experience.”
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