GOAL TO GO
Tri-City Flames looking to take state championship winning ways to Florida
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.
The Tri-City Flames 8u team celebrates with its trophy after winning the state championship 28-0.
Coach Holloway works on blocking with one of his 8u defensive lineman.
The Flames’ eight-and-under team practices defending routes at the line of scrimmage.