By Matthew Shinkle
“We had high expectations coming in and we told them in the beginning of the year that our main goal was to win the championship and go undefeated,” said Isaac Redman. “We knew we had the talent to do it.”
Redman, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, is in his first season as head coach for the Deptford Spartans freshman team in the South Jersey United Football League, and some might say his expectations in the beginning of the season seemed too bright for a coach with a new team.
However, hard work by the players and coaching staff, and the support of parents, helped the team go undefeated in the regular season. They won all eight games, while averaging 31 points per game and shutting out the opposing offense five times.
After earning a first-round bye in the playoffs, the team defeated the Pennsauken Jr. Irish and the Whitman Park Tigers in the second and third rounds to get to the SJUFL Championship game, where they defeated the Kingsway Dragons, 26-14, on Saturday, Dec. 1.
The team is compiled of 32 6 and 7 year olds who are just starting to learn how to play football at a competitive level, something that could become a huge part of their lives in the future.
Now, after an undefeated season thanks to the hard work of all 32 kids on the field, they are asking the community for support in helping them make a dream come true.
This is the second year of the World Youth National Championships, hosted in Canton, Ohio, the location of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After a remarkable regular season, some of the coaching staff from the Spartans reached out to the organization hosting the championship and received some shocking news.
“They heard about our team and one of their reps came to one of our playoff games,” Redman said. “I honestly didn’t think we’d be able to go, because you have to play in their regionals first and that was the same weekend as our championship [for the SJUFL].”
However, the rep said the team could skip the regional game and received a direct invite to Ohio.
In his first year as coach, Redman had the team start practicing earlier in the spring than most midget football leagues would typically do. The kids would practice twice a week during the summer, and then once school came around, practices would be three times a week.
The coaching staff, especially since the kids are at such a young age, focused on the fundamentals, conditioning and making football fun at the end of practice, such as relay races, to end practice on a good note.
“Right from that start I could see that, if we could get them to play like a team, that they were going to be pretty good,” said Redman. “They worked hard … they were all happy at the end result, they can see that all the hard work they put in and they’d work to accomplish something.”
Now, as the team prepares to play in the World Youth National Championships, the team and parents have launched a GoFundMe page to assist in making this trip possible for all the kids on the team.
Originally, the goal was to help provide a team bus to get the team to Ohio and back, but after a great showing by the community, the team wishes to make it more affordable for parents by being able to assist in the cost of the hotel rooms.
“If we carpool, we could save a lot of money on the bus and we would be able to pay for all the parents’ rooms and not have them come out of pocket,” Redman said. “It’s Christmas time and all that, so we’re pretty close to our goal and trying to still fundraise.”
Those in the community can donate at www.gofundme.com/freshmancalltothehall to assist the team in representing Deptford and South Jersey in the tournament. At the time of publication, the team has fundraised nearly $4,500 in just 9 days, but their listed goal is $10,000 to be able to alleviate parents’ worry of hotel rooms during the tournament.
The team is guaranteed at least two games between Dec. 12 and 16 during the championships, and those in the community can donate until the championships are over.
The competition will be tougher as they play teams from around the country; what are the coach’s expectations now?
“Still to win,” Redman said, with a grin.