The next generation of Corona del Sol football players already has gotten plenty of experience on the field.
Recently realigned withCorona’s Aztecs, players in the Junior Pee-Wee, or JPW, Wildcats have been competing for years in and around west Chandler.
The team, which consists of athletes ages 10 and 11, has earned an impressive honor, winning its way in to the American Youth Football Under-Armor National Competition, due to be held Dec. 3-10 in Florida.
The Wildcats finished their regular season at 4-3 with three straight losses, but as it turns out that was just the eye opener they needed after three straight years without a loss in the regular season.
“Losing three games to close the season caused a lot of reflection within our team’s coaches, players and parents alike,” said Wildcats coach Greg Gavel.
“It forced us to rediscover the respect and appreciation for what it takes to win a football game. It made us hungry again.”
Gavel has been a volunteer coach with the team for six years. Along with the others who share coaching responsibilities, Gavel says he draws reward from helping develop the kids through football and the relationships made on the field.
“The connections you make with the kids are incredible and humbling,” he said. “When you ask someone to give so much and put so much of their heart into something, you make a pretty deep connection with them.
“When you have a whole team that is willing to sacrifice so much, you have something incredibly special.”
After their 4-3 regular season, the team went on to beat seeds number one, two and three in the playoffs as they brought home the Southeast Valley Championship.
The Wildcats then went on to compete in the Phoenix American Youth Football Championship, which encompasses approximately 15 different leagues and all of their teams, accomplishing another goal by winning that championship as well.
The next step for the Wildcats is the AYF Under-Armor Nationals inFlorida. The team has the chance to compete against other league champions across the nation, and bring home the national title toChandler.
“We all have a passion for football and an interest in being involved in developing the character and work ethic of the boys we coach,” Gavel said.
“Football is a great sport for teaching so many life lessons with the emotion and passion it draws.”
The Wildcats team is filled with kids who are naturally talented, like quarterback Ricky Pearsall. Gavel described Ricky as possibly the best 10-year-old leader in the state.
Other players like Gunner Williams play for the love of the game, and his coach says there isn’t a player in the league who can match his heart.
“He is a true leader and was a unanimous vote for team captain by his peers. Despite his size, Gunner is one of the most dangerous defensive linemen in the league—all because of his motor and heart,” Gavel said.
“We are not a team of a few great players; we are a team of 17 great kids that contribute everything they can.”
The Wildcats play in the Southeast Valley Youth Football league, which is open to youth players in the area. Kids and parents are encouraged to get information about the program by visiting the team’s website (sevyf.com).
The rewards and lessons taught through hard work and dedication to something like football will make an impact well beyond sports, and way beyond childhood, say those involved in the program.
“We’re developing kids that are going to go on and be leaders in their communities,” Gavel said. “And we’re getting to do it in a way that is so much fun and so enjoyable for the kids and the families.”
While the team has done everything it can to get to the national competition, the players are now relying on the community to help them out.
The team is hosting a raffle event starting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, at Teakwoods Tavern and Grill in westChandler. The event is designed to help raise money and send the team to the national competition. Players understand the importance that a community can play on a team like this, and they say their gratitude is immense. They have already received more than 100 donation items for the raffle, including an autographed Adrian Wilson football, Cardinals tickets, Fiesta Bowl tickets, an iPod touch and a week’s accommodations at one of many hotels of the winner’s choice.
The team hopes to raise more than $1,000 in donated items.
Teakwoods will also be contributing 15 percent of each bill that night to the team, as long as the participant has purchased a raffle ticket.
Tickets are $25 for one, $100 for five. The fifth ticket will be entered into the premier event raffle, which includes the biggest and best prizes.
For more information on getting children involved in the next season of pee-wee football, or to purchase raffle tickets, contact Gavel via email at firstname.lastname@example.org