Sitting just off Highway 880 in one of the tougher stretches of West Oakland, Raimondy Park shows little sign of being some realm of dreams. The old artificial turf on the football field is worn and sloping, and the incredible lights and scoreboards are just a glimmer of hope there.
On occasion, youth football teams from out-of-town have opted to skip games rather than go to Trek. He neighborhood to play.
With one of the largest homeless camps in Oakland almost pressed behind end zones, in some ways the ramshackle Raimondi has become a place of broken dreams.
That’s when the East Bay Warriors, a pop Warner football team for kids ages 8 to 11, appears. His arrival each week is an expression of hope in the park.
Filled with aspirations and promises, 30 boys have banded together at their home turf to become one of the top under-10 teams in the country. They have blasted through an undefeated season, averaging nearly 25 points, winning games 10–0 and never holding back once.
“It’s almost as if the issues we deal with make us who we are,” Warriors coach Michael Ott said. “So the lights on our ground don’t work? We do not insist on this. We love Oakland and understand that the city is grappling with many issues.
“Looks like our families have big things to worry about with lights or whatever.”
In a little more than a week, these Warriors players, many of whom have played together since the age of 6, head to Orlando, Fla., for their final Test at the Pop Warner National Championships. will fly to
Most of them, anyway.
The harsh reality is that competing for the national title comes at a cost – each player must pay $1,000 for a 10-day visit to the Universal Studios campus beginning on December 2. This does not even include spending money. For many of the low-income families on the team, this is too expensive.
Unfortunately, this is a familiar story for the Warriors program, which attracts players from East Oakland and West Oakland and has sent at least one team to the Countrymen for 17 consecutive years. Teams qualify and the kids always get left behind.
Warriors usually send multiple teams to Florida, but an average of 5-10 kids per year are unable to make the one-time trips earned by themselves and their teammates. This year, the Under-10 Warriors are the only team in the program to make it to the Pop Warner Nationals – not that it eases any financial burden.
“Too many parents struggle to pay just for our team fees and uniforms, and now they’re hit with a $1,300 to $1,500 bill over the holidays so their child can experience it? Is,” said Warriors team mom Reena Robertson, whose 8-year-old son is on the team. “It may be the only opportunity for some kids to travel anywhere … so it hurts when they aren’t able to go.”
Robertson and other parents have been actively fundraising throughout the season, just in case the national championship becomes a reality for the team. The goal was to try to offset each family’s bill as much as possible. But having barbecues and selling food during games and practices didn’t make much of a dent in the total $30,000 bill — due out this week — to send each player to the Nationals.
The better news is that more than $18,000 in donations have been raised through a GoFundMe account set up by the team the day it beat the Santa Clara Lions 40-13 to win the Pacific Northwest Regional Championship on Nov.
The idea that even a child would not be able to join in with their peers in Florida is a depressing thought for John Beam, the legendary coach at Lan College, who has spent nearly 40 years coaching kids in Oakland and faced each other. Know the obstacles. He saw what community support could mean for children.
“As coaches we try to keep kids off the streets and surround them with positivity, especially with what’s happening in Oakland,” Beam said. “We cannot turn our backs on these children. I really hope that as a community we can rally around them and help them move to Orlando. ,
Ott, the Warriors coach, knows firsthand that kids can sometimes take an uncertain path once they’re finished with youth football. So he is hoping not to leave any child behind.
“I’ve seen some of my players play in colleges and pros over the years, and sadly some are on death row,” said Ott, whose latest alumni success story is Dallas Cowboys rookie cornerback Nahshon Wright. . “We’ll find a way to get money for all the kids.
“If push comes to shove, I’ll pay for the baby.”
Whatever happens with the team’s finances, the coaches and parents will continue to make the best of what they have. This is the way of warriors.
The same thing compels them to show up at 6 a.m. on game days at Raimondi Park to rid the grounds, stands and bathrooms of accumulated garbage before the spectators and visiting teams arrive. Very often they have to dispose of syringes and other drug paraphernalia and perform emergency plumbing duties at toilets.
“We have a unique organization and we all want to present it in the best possible way,” Ott said. “We’re cleaning up and trying to make things presentable because we feel like we’re going to have guests coming into our house.”
The team’s parents have no trouble getting involved in the cleanup process.
“I’m just a dad who is involved and really cares about the team,” said Andy Pay, whose son is in his first year with the team. “I really want these kids to have success and I will do anything to help them.”
A pragmatist can tell you that these warriors have already been conditioned to go without. Kids are surprised at the few areas they play on the peninsula or other affluent cities, but don’t complain about what they have. His coach doesn’t allow him to feel sorry for himself.
“The message we send to our kids is ‘No excuses.’ It’s a very resilient community…no one will feel sorry for us,” said Ott, a Clorox employee for 25 years who happily poured his free time into their teams for the past decade, even though His own son may have graduated from the program long ago. “We have a saying, ‘We have everything and we have everything we need.’ ,
Equipment Day for some youth football leagues means the opening of new shoulder pads and helmets with the latest safety features. When the Under-10 Warriors performed for the first time this summer, their smile didn’t dwindle just because they got some decade-old equipment.
Marshawn Lynch, the most famous of East Bay Warriors alumni, has pitched in to help get some practice wear for the teams. Lynch’s generosity is just one example of a community centered around children.
Since the lights at Raimondi Park did not operate throughout the year, the Warriors could only do short drills since daylight savings ended to qualify for the nationals. Castlemont High’s football team temporarily solved that problem, allowing youngsters to practice under their lights on their half of the field.
The Warriors got a good news last Friday when the lights went on in Raimondi for the first time this year. It was illuminating to measure the team’s response to being able to practice again in their field. He did not complain about visibility on the field, which was full of dark shadows as only 1-3 bulbs worked on each of the lighting parameters.
They were just happy to be back home and ready for the journey of a lifetime.
For those interested in contributing to the East Bay Warriors’ effort to travel to Orlando, Fla., for the Pop Warner Nationals, here’s a link to their GoFundMe page.