Rewarded for their standout seasons of competition, dozens of players and coaches from Redondo Beach Youth Football and Cheer enjoyed the trip of a lifetime when their teams advanced to the Pop Warner National Championships at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, FL.
Not only did the teams get the opportunity to compete against some of the best talent in the nation, they also enjoyed spending time at such places as the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Theme Park within the Walt Disney World Resort.
After winning the Wescon championships, the Jr. Midget football team and Midget cheer squad from Redondo had little time to hold team and individual fundraising to help offset costs for the trip which, according to Jr. Midget head football coach John Jackson, was the most stressful part of the entire season.
“Some organizations have funding set aside to pay for the coaches and players who qualify for the national championship,” Jackson said. “But we worked hard and the trip will be one our team will remember for the rest of our lives.”
The majority of the 11-13 year olds on Jackson’s team have been playing together since competing in the Mitey Mites division four years ago.
“The character on this team as a whole is beyond belief,” said Jackson, who believes teaching life lessons are just as important as the fundamentals of the game. “To watch these boys grow up together, go through their ups and downs and mature, is like having a bunch of sons.”
There have been many more ups than downs for Jackson and his boys during the last four years. His teams have average only one loss per season. The Sea Hawks finished 13-1 this season, their lone loss coming in the first game of the National Division II Championships when the team fell to the Lenape Valley Indians (PA) 19-9.
“When we first took the field, I knew we didn’t have our usual energy,” Jackson said. “I think the excitement and lack of sleep due to the flight and time change took its toll.”
Redondo rebounded to become Consolation Champion with a 20-0 win over the Gary Steelers (IN).
“The boys knew they didn’t play up to their level in the first game and wanted to show everyone just how talented they are,” Jackson said. “It was nice to go out on a winning note.”
The West Volusia Wolves (FL) routed the West Haven Seahawks (CT) 34-0 to win the Jr. Midget Division 2 title.
Redondo’s impressive record fails to reflect just how dominant the team was this season. The Sea Hawks did not give up a touchdown until the championship game of the Southern California Conference playoffs.
“In most games, we scored more touchdowns than the opposing team had first downs,” Jackson said.
Pop Warner rules state that once a team has a 28-point lead, there becomes a running clock where time is not stopped after scores, when a player goes out of bounds, etc.
“We want to give the kids as much playing time as possible,” Jackson explained. “A running clock takes time away from the players so we did our best not to run up the score by kicking field goals instead of going for touchdowns.”
Jackson feels the toughest team the Sea Hawks faced this season was a team from North Long Beach that Redondo defeated 17-6 in the semifinals of the Wescon championships.
It came as no surprise that the talented Redondo team drew the attention of high school coaches, including some from non-local private schools.
“I know it’s a ways off and things can happen, but out of our 27 kids, I think 17 can be very, very good high school players,” Jackson said. “At least 12 of those 17 have the potential to play college football.”
Give me an “R”
Led by head coach Julie Alli, Redondo’s Midget cheer squad of 19 girls placed seventh in the Level 2 Medium Division at the National Championships, a feat that hadn’t even entered the minds of the girls or coaching staff during the season.
The Sea Hawk squad of 12-14 year-old girls cheered for the Redondo Beach Midget football team throughout the season, but it was their success at competitions that qualified it for the National Championships.
Unlike football, where game records and statistics give players and coaches a good indication of the team’s chances to make it to Florida, the fate of a cheer squad on competition results where one step off the mat or a single mistake during a routine can determine future competition or the end of the season.
After winning the L.A. County Championships in Long Beach, the Sea Hawks placed second in the Wescon competition to earn their trip to the National Championships.
“I was in total shock after we won in Long Beach,” Alli admitted. “We were so honored to represent Redondo Beach in the National Championships and I’m so proud of the girls. To compete at that level against the best teams in the nation and finish seventh is remarkable. I’m from back East and cheerleading is a much larger sport back there than it is here.”
Practicing at least three times a week and attending tumbling classes at South Bay Gymnastics on Sunday paid off for the Sea Hawks who finished the football season with what Alli described as a “whirlwind of emotions.”
The team had just over two weeks to plan – and raise money – for their trip to Florida. Alli said she calculated that the girls raised more than $8,100 during the short time span.
“The girls worked hard as a team to qualify for the nationals and just as hard to physically get there,” Alli said. “The girls helped each other out, going door-to-door raising funds for the trip.”
Although the football season is over, the cheer team is still practicing. The Sea Hawks qualified for the JAMZ Youth Nationals to be held Jan. 25-28, 2013 at the Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.