The New England Patriots may claim to have a dynasty, but they certainly haven't achieved the same numbers as the Dorchester Eagles.
The Eagles have sent teams to the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Florida six years in a row. Makes the Patriots' paltry three appearances in four seem a little weak, doesn't it?
But the Dorchester Eagles don't go around showboating or holding out for some cash. This Pop Warner program is about an awful lot more than the gridiron, says team president Leslie Goodwin.
"We try to encourage the children to look at us [the coaches and staff] as role models and see that we push them to the limits because we go to the limits for them," she says. "Being a champion is about more than winning, it's about a willingness to break barriers. And that is what we are doing, we are knocking on doors and breaking barriers."
This year, the program will be entering its fourteenth season with over 150 football players and 75 cheerleaders on their rosters. They have started a new "F" team for boys ages five and six, and continue to expand across the ages of seven to fourteen year olds.
This fall will also likely see the debut of a professional documentary on their 2006 season. But their goals are about more than fame and glory. They are about keeping kids safe from the streets and advancing to better lives.
"We teach them there is a left and a right, and to us the left is the wrong, and the right is, to us, the right. But the right may be hard, they need to take a path and show responsibility," Goodwin says. "All that matters is that you show respect to your family, your neighbors, and your neighborhood."
That responsibility and respect is groomed in the Eagles by their continued commitment to their neighborhood, Goodwin says. Every player does community service during the year and has to sustain a certain grade level in school. Goodwin goes as far as to offer out their services.
"You can't be an Eagle if you don't do community service," she says from a practice at Garvey Park in Neponset this week. "In fact if you are looking for a group of kids to help you do something, all you have to do is give us a call."
The biggest influences on the kids in the program are the coaches that spend day after day preparing the kids for life, both on and off the football field. In practice they don't shy away from yelling at the kids or disciplining them, but it is part of a greater relationship that is more than running passing patterns or tackling well. Many of the coaches once played at the same level themselves and know what it means.
"I played Pop Warner myself, and so this is my chance to give it back to these kids and the community," says Byron Beaman, the coach of the B-team, boys aged 10 to 13. "Football is a great way to teach young men about life. It's just like a fourth down; you may be down, but you are never out."
Goodwin says that those coaches give more than just their time at practice for these kids, and that is why the players respond so well.
"I have one of the most influential groups of coaches. T hese kids can call them wherever they are and say 'Coach, I have an issue.' Most of them say they have additional kids," she laughs.
And even if winning isn't all that matters, it still matters a little bit. It helps keeps kids interested in the program, they say. And, of course, it is probably a bit more enjoyable. This year the coaches feel pretty confident the success of recent years is about to continue.
"I'm pretty optimistic about the season," says Beaman, whose team will break from the conventional offense employed by many Massachusetts Pop Warner programs. "We are going to throw the ball. A lot of programs in Pop Warner get comfortable running the football but we are looking to develop kids."
"I expect a few state championships to come out of this year," head coach Terry Cousins beams as he anticipates the competition. "No one is going to lie down and let us have it this year, but they never have. We have always just taken it."