Local Pop Warner teams set to play in national event

Youth football

December 02, 2007|By Patrick Gutierrez | Patrick Gutierrez,Sun Reporter

Normally, when children find out they are going to Disney World, all they can think about is riding roller coasters and meeting Mickey Mouse. But 13-year-old Brandon Oliver has more important business on his mind: winning the Super Bowl.

Oliver and his Charm City Buccaneers teammates are heading to Orlando, Fla., to compete in the Pop Warner Football National Championships, which begin today at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. Their first game is Tuesday against the Tri-Town Raiders of Indiana.

The Buccaneers, who play their home games at Leon Day Park in West Baltimore, advanced to the national event by defeating the Southwest Colts (Rochester, N.Y.), 16-12, in the regional final, held recently in New Jersey.

The quarterback-safety led his team with 10 touchdowns this season, and he said he was excited to finally have the chance to play for the national title after being upset in the first round of the regionals last season.

"I knew we had a good team last year," Oliver said. "It hurt when we lost, but now I'm looking forward to winning the national championship."

The Buccaneers will be among eight teams competing in Division II of the Jr. Midget classification, which is for 10- to 13-year-olds who weigh 85 to 135 pounds. While Oliver and many of his teammates will be getting their first chance to play for a championship, their coach, John Gross, is no stranger to the Magic Kingdom, having coached the Buccaneers to a national title in 2005.

"I'm excited to be going back, but the kids are even more excited," Gross said.

The Buccaneers won't be alone in trying to bring a national championship back to Baltimore. The Westport Patriots also advanced, defeating the Buffalo Eagles, 18-6, to capture the regional title among Division II Midget teams (11- to 15-year-olds, 105-160 pounds). Their first game is also Tuesday, against the Sunnyvale Rockets from California.

For coach Nick Brunson, the opportunity to take his team to Orlando is especially satisfying because the Patriots lost in the regional finals in 2006.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these kids," Brunson said. "Most of them would never get a chance to see Disney World."

That opportunity might not have been possible without a $20,000 donation from the Ravens to help offset travel expenses for both teams. As a result, the players and their families are heading to Florida with visions of championship trophies dancing in their heads.


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