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The Gridiron Gang
by Kayla Dubchansky
Nov 18, 2009 | 1672 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Treci Blanton runs over a pair of teammate tacklers during an offensive drill.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Treci Blanton runs over a pair of teammate tacklers during an offensive drill.
A victory over the Reno Patriots earlier this month is sending the Sparks Pop Warner 11-12 year-old Pee Wee Wolf Pack team to the regional semifinals in Santa Clara, Calif Saturday. Not only are the Wolf Pack players excelling on the gridiron, but in the community and in school as well.

“This is the best group of kids I’ve coached,” Wolf Pack coach Paul Bright said.

The Wolf Pack beat the Patriots 14-0 in the Snow Bowl which gave the team its fourth straight Sagebrush League championship.

The Patriots and Wolf Pack have been rivals for the past few years and the teams met each other in the Snow Bowl last year.

“To be able to go in and play them again, and win, it’s just an even bigger victory,” Bright said.

The local Wolf Pack team consists of 32 kids, mostly 12 year olds, Bright said. The majority of the team has played together since they were seven Bright estimated.

“They’re not the biggest or the fastest or any of that,” Coach Paul Bright said. “But when they go into a game, they’re just bigger than anybody else because nobody else works harder than they do.”

On Saturday, the Wolf Pack will face the East County Washington Jets. With a win, the Wolf Pack will continue on to the regional championship game, which will also be held in Santa Clara, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Bright said the kids are well aware of the fact that Thursday could indeed be their last night of practice.

“Leave everything on the field,” he said. “Just try your hardest, try your best, and that’s the best way we can go forward.”

If the Wolf Pack comes away with two wins in Santa Clara over the coming week plus, the team will head to Nationals and play in Orlando, Fla. The Wolf Pack advanced all the way to Florida last year. About two thirds of the kids on this year's roster played on last year’s national qualifying team.

While part of Pop Warner is learning the basics of football, and teamwork, the Wolf Pack is learning at a young age what it is to be a student-athlete. 13 of the students have been recognized for their scholastic achievements.

“That’s one of the most important things,” Bright said on his team’s academic excellence.

Three players are eligible to be given the honor of Academic All-American status.

“Another team might be bigger. It might be faster. It might even be stronger, but you can always outsmart your opponent,” Bright said.

Bright said the team philosophy stresses the scholastic aspect of being student-athletes and making sure the kids are doing their work as well as following up with parents.

“Once they get to high school, they’re going to realize that if they don’t make the grades, they don’t play,” Bright said. “The scouts are no longer looking for just that athlete. They’re looking for that smart player.”

Along with working hard on the field and in the classroom, the members of the Pack have been working to help the community. The team and family members are doing a food drive, where all proceeds will benefit local activist Evelyn Mount.

“Last year, when we got to go to Florida, the community really, really stepped up for us,” Bright said. “We thought, ‘what a perfect opportunity this is to let us give back to the community and let the kids learn how important that is as well.'”

Last year, the community helped the Wolf Pack raise thousands of dollars in order for the team to trek to nationals, team parent Mary Munstermann said. The team will be delivering food to Evelyn Mount on Monday.

“The kids are each collecting food,” Munstermann said. “They’re asking their parents and their neighbors. We’re going to caravan down there on Monday.”

With football on the brain for the upcoming game, coach Bright said that he couldn’t be any prouder of what his team has accomplished already.

“We just won the Snow Bowl,” Bright said. “We’ve got to be excited for what we’ve already accomplished. Anything from here on out is just icing on the cake. We’re just going to go out and we’re going to have fun.”

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The Gridiron Gang by Kayla Dubchansky

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