GOAL TO GO

Tri-City Flames look­ing to take state cham­pi­onship win­ning ways to Florida

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Sean Jones Cor­re­spon­dent

State cham­pion Tri-City Flames 8u and 10u teams seek backing for trip to na­tional tour­ney

PETERS­BURG – A player hunched on his hands and knees bear-crawls his way across an out­field be­neath the flood­lights at the Peters­burg Sports Com­plex.

A coach fol­lows him the en­tire 50 yards - up and back - to make sure he doesn’t cheat on his pun­ish­ment.

“Grades,” said Tri-City Flames head coach Lathius “Lay­lay” Bradley. “He’s the first one we’ve had to do this with this year. But if they aren’t stay­ing above C’s in school, we hear about it and make them work for it at prac­tice.”

So the kids, ages 8 and 10, work for it.

Their work has led to tremen­dous achieve­ments.

Bradley started the Tri-City Flames Foot­ball or­ga­ni­za­tion not too long ago when his son said he wanted to play foot­ball. Though com­ing from an AAU basketball back­ground, Bradley also knew foot­ball, and he started the Flames to be a bet­ter youth sports or­ga­ni­za­tion.

His teams – aged 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14 – just fin­ished their third sea­sons.

“I saw a lot of po­ten­tial in this area,” Bradley said. “I played on the team at Peters­burg and grad­u­ated in ‘01. I saw that the kids have noth­ing to do, which gets them into trou­ble. All my coaches in all the age groups go into the schools, talk to parents and see re­port cards. We want to pre­pare them for life af­ter foot­ball, put them in or­ga­ni­za­tions where it’s big­ger than foot­ball. You keep open com­mu­ni­ca­tion and it helps them do bet­ter in life.”

Bradley and his coach­ing staff have had a quick re­turn on their ef­forts with the kids. Af­ter the Flames’ first sea­son, the 14u team won the state cham­pi­onship and com­peted for the na­tional ti­tle in Florida where they fin­ished sec­ond.

“It’s a good feel­ing work­ing with these kids, and you can see the shock on their face when they win,” said Joe Disher, coach of the 8u team. “Each kid re­sponds dif­fer­ently to our coach­ing styles. It’s based on the in­di­vid­ual kid. We have to be flex­i­ble in our ways. Times change, kids change, sit­u­a­tions change.”

While most teams have to leave coaches on the field to help young ath­letes get a feel for foot­ball’s com­pli­cated pat­terns of X’s and O’s, the Flames line up with­out the help of their coaches, who call plays from the side­lines, just like in high school.

This year, both the 8u and 10u teams went un­de­feated in the reg­u­lar sea­son and won the state cham­pi­onships in their re­spec­tive leagues. Not only were the clinch­ing fi­nal scores 35-0 and 28-0, but the 10u team didn’t give up a touch­down the en­tire year; the 8u team was scored on only once.

“We thought this was go­ing to be a re­build­ing year hon­estly,” Bradley said. “It’s all about their hard work when it comes down to it.”

His team for 10 and un­der has only six 10-year-old play­ers. The other 12 play­ers will be back again, rip­ping up turf for the same age group next year.

Now they’re look­ing to best the older age group and bring home a na­tional ti­tle from Florida.

The dual state vic­to­ries se­cured both the 8u and 10u teams an au­to­matic place at the na­tional cham­pi­onships in Florida.

But even though the Flames have show­cased their abil­ity to play, the money in­volved has turned out to be a huge stum­bling block for the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“We started break­ing down cost af­ter the [Cham­pi­onship] game was over,” said Coach Hol­loway. “It’s a lot of work, a big dream for the kids and a shot in the dark. We’re com­mit­ted to getting them the chance to go down and play.

The teams have been fundrais­ing through a GoFundMe page to help pay for lodg­ing, travel and gro­ceries for a num­ber of the team’s fam­i­lies that are un­able to af­ford the ex­pen­sive out-of-state jour­ney.

“Af­ter every game they win, all they talk about is Florida. They don’t even care about the next team. They want it. They want to go. They want to prove they de­serve it as a team,” Coach Disher said.

With the state tro­phies safely at home, the Flames are still prac­tic­ing through rain and 38-de­gree weather on base­ball fields where they can have lights af­ter sun­down.

“We want to be the best in the na­tion,” said Nolan Lee, a team cap­tain for the 10u team. “Our coaches taught us to be­lieve in our­selves and to never give up.”

A mas­sive foot­ball show­case would await the play­ers at the end of the jour­ney. The tour­na­ment draws huge spon­sors like Ga­torade and Nike while play­ers take the field with cus­tom tour­na­ment gear to up the en­vi­ron­ment’s in­ten­sity. “Some of these kids will never leave the area,” Bradley said. “Tak­ing them down there is more than just the foot­ball; they

get to en­joy them­selves and have fun. They might never get this kind of ex­pe­ri­ence. They work hard for it, and they re­ally de­serve this.”

The team would leave on Dec. 1 for the tour­na­ment with a guar­an­teed three games. It would take six con­sec­u­tive wins to fin­ish as cham­pi­ons.

Anyone want­ing to help cover costs for the teams can see their GoFundMe page at https://www. gofundme.com/flamesto-florida-for-na­tion­als.

[CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO]

The Tri-City Flames 8u team cel­e­brates with its tro­phy af­ter win­ning the state cham­pi­onship 28-0.

[SEAN JONES/ PROGRESSINDEX. COM]

Coach Hol­loway works on block­ing with one of his 8u de­fen­sive line­man.

[CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO]

The Flames’ eight-and-un­der team prac­tices de­fend­ing routes at the line of scrim­mage.

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