After a decisive victory at regionals last weekend, a Pop Warner football team in Hoffman Estates has earned its way to the national championships in Orlando this weekend -- making them the first team from the Redhawks program in seven years to advance.
The Junior Midget team, made up of seventh and eighth graders from Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg and Bartlett, gathered Tuesday night for the live bracketing show on ESPN3, to find out their first round opponent for Saturday.
They learned they will be playing the Titans from Loveland, Colo., in what ESPN announcers predicted will be the "game of the day."
Their competitive cheer squad, the PeeWee cheer team, also has qualified for nationals and will be competing in Orlando on Saturday as well.
"This is crazy," said Michael Eppenbaugh, an eighth grader from Hoffman Estates who plays running back and safety for the team. "We've wanted this for so long and worked so hard. I can't believe we're going."
They're not there yet, however.
The Pop Warner Super Bowl championships take place at the Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World. If the team advances past the first round, it will play another game on Tuesday, Dec. 10, with the ultimate shot at playing in the Super Bowl on Friday, Dec. 13.
Consequently, the Redhawks needs to raise the money for the 27 boys and their chaperones to stay the entire week in Orlando, as well as to provide Disney World passes and food vouchers for the players. The team plans to drive to Orlando in vans to help save travel expenses.
"We're figuring we need to raise $1,200 per player," says Mark Coalson of Schaumburg, the Junior Midget's head coach, "or just over $32,000."
Local residents and corporations have been responding, Redhawk officials said.
Mark Mueller, Redhawks board president, announced at Tuesday's meeting that he had raised $14,000 that day in corporate donations.
And last weekend, the team raised $3,500 from motorists during a "shake the bucket" collection at the intersection of Higgins and Roselle roads in Hoffman Estates.
The team has established an online fundraising site for local contributions, gofundme.com/5j84u4.
"We have enough to get down there and for their lodging," Mueller, a sergeant on the Hoffman Estates Police Department and an assistant coach, told the crowd Tuesday night. "Now, we're working on raising money for their food and passes."
Eppenbaugh said he and most of his fellow team have never been to Disney World
But the coaches reminded team members this was not a pleasure trip.
"This is a business trip," coach Storm Warner said. "We attained our goal of getting to Florida. Now, we have to reset that goal. We're going to win the national championship."
Head coach Coalson says it's a real possibility. The team has gone undefeated through the regular season and playoffs, outscoring opponents 96-6 in the three playoff games alone.
Hi son, Austin, is the quarterback and he 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."