3 Hoffman Estates Pop Warner teams trying for nationals
Excitement is running high in Hoffman Estates' Redhawk Nation.
Three of its Pop Warner football teams are headed to regional championships Friday. At stake is the chance to advance to the national championships at the Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World.
"I've been dreaming of this for so many years," says Austin Coalson of Schaumburg, quarterback for the undefeated Junior Midget team, "but we have to win the next game first."
While the Redhawks have sent a team to nationals six times, the last time they had a team advance that far was seven years ago. And having three teams advance to the final round before the national championships is unprecedented, said Mark Mueller, a coach for the Junior PeeWee team, which also is competing Friday.
"We've had other teams go down, but it was one here and one there," Mueller says. "We've never had all three levels get this far, to regionals like this. Since you have to win locally, then three games regionally, it is very hard to do. We are very excited."
Both the Junior Midgets and the Junior PeeWee teams are playing squads from Bedford Heights, Ohio, while the 11- and 12-year-old PeeWees are playing a team from Michigan City, Ind.
All three teams are headed to Ames Field in Michigan City, Ind., for Friday's games. If they win, they will play Dec. 6 in Orlando, Fla., for games that will air on ESPN3.
Already, the Redhawks' 11- and 12-year-old PeeWee cheer team has qualified for nationals and will compete Dec. 7 in Orlando. Last year, the cheer team took third in the nation.
"Our No. 1 goal is getting to Disney," says Joe Lovelace of Hoffman Estates, quarterback of the Junior PeeWees. "I'm so excited. I tell all my friends at school and my teachers even have come to my games."
Mueller, a sergeant with the Hoffman Estates Police Department, and John Bending, its DARE officer, combine to coach the Junior PeeWees, and bring more than a love of football to the team.
Mueller started the Law Enforcement Athletics Program, or LEAP, with the financial backing of the Hoffman Estates Police Benevolent Fund.
Working with school social workers to identify at-risk students or those without a father figure in their home, they encourage -- and financially help -- boys to come out for the team, and girls to go out for the Redhawks cheer program.
LEAP then partners with the Redhawks to support the players through the season, as well as through preseason conditioning camps.
"We mentor them from July though November," Mueller says. "The relationships with the coaches are worth more than wins and losses."
Lovelace, the sixth-grade quarterback who has led his Junior PeeWee team to an undefeated season, says he likes how his coaches incorporate the players and their thoughts on the team's performance.
"After every game, we watch film and talk about what we have to work on," Joe said. "Everybody shares their ideas."
Coalson says his team vividly remembers playing at regionals two years ago, with the hopes of advancing to Disney, when they lost by two points.
"We want to avenge our loss," Austin said. "We have to play smarter, stay focused and execute as a team."