With bags packed and snacks in hand, players, family members and coaches of the Schenectady-Belmont Patriots Pop Warner football team waited at benches at Albany International Airport Friday mid-morning as they checked in for their flight to Florida.
Kids on the team walked around laughing and smiling as the clock neared take-off time — 12:50 p.m. It was a special morning for the team of more than two dozen mainly 9- and 10-year-olds departing on an adventure that included the chance at a national title in Orlando, Florida.
Following a 10-0 season that saw the team become state champs, all that stood in the way of their trip to Florida was a $35,000 fundraising goal needed to cover the cost of travel and hotel fees.
The community was able to rally around the team and exceed its fundraising goal for the trip.
For many of the kids it would be the first time flying on a plane and first time going to Florida.
“I feel nervous and excited,” said Zavion Fetter, a 9-year-old cornerback on the team.
But he wasn’t going to let his nerves get in the way of getting to Florida or taking home the trophy.
Teammate Rayson Smith, a 10-year-old offensive lineman, had no doubts about the team going all the way.
“We always win,” he said.
But the best part about the trip, win or lose, is spending it with his second family — his teammates, Smith said.
Some players like 11-year-old Kevin Broussard, a center, were slightly nervous about playing Saturday morning.
“We’re playing different teams we’ve never played and we don’t know what to expect,” he said.
The team will take on its first opponent, the Miners from Reno, Nevada, on Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m., said coach Joshua Perry.
Stream the game online at https://flosports.link/30k9rUf
If they win they will battle it out on the field Tuesday and if everything goes their way they will play in the championship game on Dec. 10.
While he was a little jittery about taking on teams they’ve never played before, Broussard said he wasn’t going to let it get in the way of having fun. While the team is in Florida for eight nights, they will also visit Universal Studios, Perry said.
“I want to go on the Space Mountain roller coaster,” said Nate Althiser, a 9-year-old quarterback for the team. “I think it’s going to be really fun.”
Parents were also a little nervous, but mainly overjoyed to see their kids be able to have the experience. Some of the parents were even going on the trip to help out as well and to cheer on the team.
“They played hard all year, they deserve this,” said John Broussard, Kevin Broussard’s father, who said he was very proud of his son.
Perry said the experience is altogether great for the kids, some of whom have had a hard time during the pandemic or have never been out of the state.
“We’re looking to instill some lifelong qualities in these kids,” Perry said.
That attitude won’t stop at just this trip either, Perry said, noting he plans to try and do more with the team next year. He had said previously he wants to grow the program and eliminate sign-up fees.
Perry also said that he feels very confident in the team’s ability to win.
“We’re going to think bigger than everybody else,” he said.