Monique Brown was excited when I broke the good news to her early Wednesday afternoon that the city would help cover travel and hotel accommodations for three Pop Warner teams' trips to Florida.
"Really?" she exclaimed. "That is wonderful. I was so stressed about the costs because the boys have really worked hard to come to practice and they are so disciplined."
The announcement, made by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray at his biweekly press briefing, came just 48 hours before Ms. Brown, athletic director for the D.C. teams, and the players are due in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where the Marshall Heights Bison will try to defend their title in the 56th annual Pop Warner Super Bowl.
With the Bison (Junior Midget Division for 10- to 13-year-olds), the D.C. teams making the trip also include the Watkins Hornets (Junior Pee Wee Division, 8- to 11-year-olds) and the Beacon House Falcons (Pee Wee Division, 9- to 12-year-olds).
"The mayor is committed to providing transportation and hotel accommodations," said John Stokes, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. "He also is asking people to contact one of the youth associations directly to donate funds for food and incidentals."
"These aren't just groups of people. We're a family," said Ms. Brown, an assistant management specialist with the Federal Communications Commission who was reared in Ward 7 and grew up with Bison Coach Terrence "Mook" McKinley.
"These teams are family oriented, and you can tell our boys have home training and parental support," she said, adding that players and sometimes their young parents call the coach by such familial terms as "Uncle Mook" and "Daddy Mook," and "he loves them in return."
Tough love played its part this season as the Bison return to the Super Bowl, to the utter delight of their AD.
This year, she wears a new hat: The proud mother of Jordan Marshall, who plays on both sides of the ball as defensive end and right guard.
While Jordan is hardly a rookie, having twice earned Pop Warner's all-star scholar award, this year's bowl game has special meaning for son and mom.
"Jordan will be entering high school next year, and his [3.5] GPA and his academics have always been more important than athletics," Ms. Brown said about her son, who is on the honor roll at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School and has a sister in college. "Jordan worked hard to lose weight, he practiced hard and he became more disciplined. Now he's playing with boys he grew with on the team. It reflects a very special meaning for the word 'team' to him."
There are about 30 players on the Bison team, which Coach McKinley and staff had to whittle down from 50.
"Coach leveled the field by having all of them try out," Ms. Brown said. "But one of the first things he asked was 'How are their grades?'"
A youth football coach who doesn't have a lopsided view of student athleticism is a true blessing, especially since an estimated 70 percent of NFL players got their start as Pop Warner players.
"Jordan and the other Pop Warner players know I don't play with school work and they all are very respectful of their teammates, the staff and other players," Ms. Brown said.
Teams from 29 leagues in 17 states and the District will compete in the tournament. According to ESPN's website, the first game for a D.C. team is Sunday, when the Watkins Hornets take on the Richmond Perrine Giants in the Division I Junior Pee Wee Quarterfinals.
Perhaps that can get fans pumped for Monday night, when the Washington Redskins take on those other Giants.
Support the teams if you can, and even if you can't find it in your wallet to make a donation, send them well wishes.
To donate, call the Watkins Hornets at 202/270-1139; visit the Beacon Falcons at BeaconHouseDC.org, or call the Marshall Heights Bison at 202/340-5273 or 202/449-2930. All three teams have 501(c) 3 status for tax-deductible contributions. Donors can reach Ms. Brown, whose AD responsibilities include oversight of about 200 players and coaches for all three teams, at 202/256-3241.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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