Football team’s championship dreams dashed

Ask the 9-year-old football players on the West Philly Tarheelswhat they think makes their team unique, and they sound like a pro football team.

“Our passing game.”

“We improved our defense. We only gave up 12 points all year.”

“We don’t talk smack. We just show it on the field.”

A pro team they’re not. With almost no players over 100 pounds, the entire team of 17 barely out-weighs the five Eagles on the offensive line (about 300 pounds each).

However, the Tarheels, who wrapped up their season in the Pop Warner League’s Mighty Mites division last weekend with a 18-0 win, leaving them undefeated with an 11-0 record, are feeling like they lost.

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That’s because a mid-season organizational change canceled their dream of playing the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Disney.

“Finding out we weren’t going down to Disney, it really hurt in the inside of my body. I really wanted to make it down there,” said player AJ Redmond, 9.

While the league had a playoffs system with winners heading to the bowl at Disney World in Florida last year, it was changed this year to an invitation-only bowl — and the Tarheels didn’t get the invite.

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“The kids thought they were going to Florida. Florida was their incentive,” said team mom Caiya Whitehead.

Some parents even said they only joined this league for the chance to play in Disney, which ended up being a mirage.

“Last year, we were in the Keystone League,” said Danielle Tucker-Mills, a mother of another player. “We switched to go to Pop Warner League because we knew there was a chance, if the kids won, they could go to Disney.”

The decision to change plans occurred in October due to problems involving numerous complaints from various teams, said Pop Warner spokesman Josh Spruce.

“The playoff structure just brought a lot of challenges when playing with kids who are 7, 8, and 9 years old,” Pruce said. “We decided not to play anything that looks like a playoff game.”

Somehow the decision, made in October, didn’t trickle down from the Liberty League Athletic Association to the Tarheel parents until two weeks ago — right after winning a game they believed would set them on the path to the playoffs.

“The day we found out, we couldn’t even have practice. They all broke down crying,” Whitehead said.

“It was conveyed to our children that if they actually won all their games, they would advance to Disney,” said Tucker-Mills. “All of a sudden you change the rules and no, we’re not going to Disney.”

“I’m sorry if they were misinformed. It’s unfortunate circumstances,” Pruce said.

Now, the Tarheels are focusing on moving forward.

“This team is special. I’ve never seen nothing like this team,” said Kareem Baylor Sr., one of the team coaches, whose son is on the team, during a recent practice. “Seventeen 9-year-olds changed my life.”

Parents and coaches said the Tarheels’ football skill is only continuing to grow.

“It’s really instilled in them that ‘This is what I want to do,'” Tucker-Mills said. “Even when they’re not at practice, they practice. They will move on, they’re resilient, they will bounce back.”