Good news is an infrequent visitor to San Antonio’s Edgewood Independent School District. Then two local youth football teams in the district overpowered the local competition and earned the right to represent the city in the American Youth Football (AYF) Championships. Accustomed to hardship, the boys weren’t daunted by the lack of funding for the trip.
“Automatically it was, ‘Okay, we’re off to Florida. Now it’s time to fundraise. We have to go. Period,’” said Seminoles Assistant Coach Hector Alvarado Jr.
Fortunately for the Edgewood boys, the greater San Antonio community was ready and willing to make sure the opportunity would become a reality.
The Edgewood Seminoles had two age groups qualify for nationals: the Cadets (ages 7-10) and the Pee Wees (ages 11-13). The two teams accounted for 32 players total, and then there were coaches, volunteers and others to make an out-of-state trip and tournament a reality.
The plan: Load up all 32 players, along with 10 volunteer coaches, in a leased 50-passenger bus for the road trip to Orlando. The team set its fundraiser goal at $16,000, enough to pay for travel and a week’s worth of food and lodging for the teams. Anything extra would go towards upgrades for the teams’ damaged equipment.
In a perfect world, parents of the players fund postseason expenses for AYF teams, a typical expectation in all youth sports leagues that operate outside the public and private school systems. Additional team funding from grants and corporate sponsorship, but there are never any guarantees. Opportunity usually comes with an opportunity cost.
The cost for an individual’s participation in the regular season competition are manageable, but few players or their families expect to make nationals. Asking working-class families to shell out $800 – the cost for each player to make the trip according to team parent Denise Zavala – is unrealistic.
“They are financially disadvantaged and some are in a single-parent household,” Alvarado said.
So, shortly after concluding the regular season, Alvarado wrote an open letter to the community, explaining the team’s predicament and its goal to raise $16,000 for meals, hotel accommodations, equipment, and transportation to the AYF Superbowl.
The trip, the coach wrote, was a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
He and other team leaders took the letter to different community members and sought out potential corporate sponsors. The tipping point, Alvarado said, came when one of the player’s parents submitted the letter detailing the teams’ plight to local media outlets. An interview on KSAT-TV with the team coaches followed. After that, the donations poured in.
“The city of San Antonio just came through for us. I mean, it’s just beautiful,” Alvarado said. “People were just contributing whatever they could: $10, $20, $50 bucks here, $100 bucks there, you know? It was just a blessing what the city did for us, and I was praying for that because we’re city champs, representing not only our state, but also the city of San Antonio.”
For Alvarado, the donations were a vivid display of community support for the teams. “I told (the players), ‘Not only do we (the coaches) believe in you, the people of San Antonio believe in you. The people in San Antonio support you, love you.’ I said, ‘If not, then we wouldn’t have gotten the donations we got.’”
By the time the team bus set out for Orlando on Dec. 5 at 5:30 a.m., the teams were only $2,000 short of goal. The teams stretched their funds by sleeping four to a room and pre-packing sandwiches to cover food costs for the first couple days. Donations for the rest of their goal would be reached over the next few days. They arrived on Dec. 6 at 3 p.m. and spent the next two days enjoying the park near their hotel and preparing mentally and physically for the games that started Monday.
Unfortunately, the Cinderella-story Seminoles didn’t get a befitting fairy-tale ending to their quest. Over the next week, the two Seminoles teams went a combined 1-4 in the tournament with a 28-137 point margin in favor of the opposition. It was a tough run against national caliber competition, to say the least.
“Today was just a rough day for both teams. We got chopped, we got hit, we had one boy, a little boy, that got a mild concussion. I mean, you’re playing champions,” Alvarado said after the games.
Despite the losses, the coaches were pleased with the Seminoles’ effort.
“Today, they really showed me they got heart,” said Alvarado. “I mean, you’re talking about being hit by big boys and never backing down, you know, busted lips, being hit on the thighs, the legs, getting their hair knocked out. They sit out for a bit, then they’re ready to go.”
If Alvarado’s intense description of youth football shocks you at all, you may need a reality check. Check out the trailer for the upcoming second season of “Friday Night Tykes,” the Esquire Network’s documentary of a Texas youth football league that prominently features teams from Austin and San Antonio. Pee wee football is no walk in the park.
The Seminoles just ran into bigger, taller, faster, stronger competition in Florida, but that doesn’t mean the players or coaches see the experience as a bust.
One important byproduct of this experience, Alvarado said, is that the players learned what it takes to compete at the national level. As in any sport, the leap from one level of competition to the next involves a steep learning curve. The “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons were denied twice by Bird’s Celtics before they were ready to win a championship, and Jordan’s Bulls were pounded two years in a row by those same Pistons before their first three-peat. Brutal losses are often part of the makeup of successful teams.
Alvarado reminded me that a third of the Cadets had never even played football before, while the other two-thirds had never advanced to national competition. This was all very new to these kids.
“We just played the best of the best, and we hung in there, we played them, we scored on them; so next year we’ll be a lot better prepared. We’ll know what to expect – what we’re up against,” Alvarado said.
The kids also came away with memories. Hector’s son, eight-year-old Cadet Mikey Alvarado said he will always remember sacking the quarterback in the game on Monday. Asked if he wanted to play again next year, he replied without hesitating, “Oh definitely, yes. I’m definitely going to play next year.”
The boys of Edgewood worked hard, came together as teams, and earned the right to compete at a national level and to experience the larger world far beyond their familiar boundaries. Despite the game scores, they were and are winners. And now that they’ve had a taste of the big-time, everyone expects they will be back.
*Featured/top image: Seminoles Cadet team after becoming Division II city champ in November 2014. Photo courtesy of Seminoles Assistant Coach Hector Alvarado Jr.