Karma and determination. Those are the two words that best describe the Dorchester Eagles organization. Through the years they have not only nurtured the youth of Boston to make them better football players, but also to become better students and better members of society.
It's also helped that the organization returned to the Pop Warner Super Bowl tournament in Orlando for seven of the last eight years. The Eagles fell short of reaching the championship game this year, as they fell in the first round of play, 28-20, to the Oak Ridge Colts out of North Carolina on Sunday. They still have a lot to be proud of, though, as an organization.
"We didn't go last year," said coach Tony Hurston, who said that the midget squad had been ranked number one in the nation for the last six weeks. "That's the first time something like that has come out of New England, so it puts you in the position where you want to go out and represent that number one ranking."
It was also that determination that helped the Eagles' midget squad overcome their city rivals - the Boston Raiders - two weeks ago. The win helped them hold on to their number one national ranking, but also garner the invite to Disney World.
"The kids have been pretty laid back, accepting it for what it is, just a ranking," said Hurston. "[They are] just happy to be in the position to be down in Florida and play some football."
The last time the Eagles made the trip to Florida, they were able to get all the way to the championship game, by what Coach Hurston calls "an act of God."
"The last time we went, we had a great group of kids, but they were very young and inexperienced," said Hurston. "This year we have both great kids and a great football team, so it puts us in a position to win on and off the field this year."
The Eagles are just one of eight teams in the midget bracket who were invited down to Florida this year to participate in the tournament. They represent the 70-year-old Pop Warner tradition that teaches football and cheerleading to the youth of the country. It also pushes the value of education to create better, more well-rounded young men and women.
"The coaches do a good job of getting on you about your school work and when you're not doing it," said 14 year old co-captain Ryan Leary.
With the Eagles, it's not just about the here and now. They also help the kids plan for the future.
"They are all going to play in high school," said Hurston. "The one thing about Dorchester Pop Warner is that we have a strong following, where we have private schools and real good schools interested in the guys. We don't stop with just football as coaches. We and our board try to place the kids in better situations so they have the opportunity to carry on after Dorchester Pop Warner."
"Our alumni are real, real strong in college and high school," said Hurston. "We played our New England regional game and we had over 30 guys that used to play that came down to support the program. They showed us that we are going in the right direction with our program to have such a strong alumni following."
Led on the field by captains James Toles, Jalen Felix, Chris McKinney and Leary, the Eagles have been able to maintain the rich tradition that they and the Pop Warner organization stand for. It's helped them to seven New England regional championships.
"It's unbelievable," said Leary. "We were collectively one group. Last year we were all individuals trying to do something, but now this year we are taking the team persona as one and that really helped us."
Coaches Hurston and Terry Cousins, known to everyone as "Coach Beef", have established a confidence in the boys that have led them to a place where they can be proud of their accomplishments.
"Coach Hurston is basically the guy that knows everything that we need to do," said Leary. "He knows the play the other coach is going to call before he even knows the play, which helps us a lot. And coach Beef gets us amped before the game. Gets us fired up. So two different ones, but they both buy into the same thing that helped us succeed this year."
"We pride ourselves on keeping it family oriented all the time," said Hurston. "That's why we never turn anyone away whether they have the money or not to pay. One of the reasons I think we have been so blessed with the whole Florida, Super Bowl situation. There is karma in life and everything you do. I think that's been our karma to never turn our back on anyone that can't afford to play. It's not a money thing, it's a family thing."