SCHENECTADY — Call it a Thanksgiving miracle. Or, perhaps more fittingly, a successful Hail Mary that put the team up by six with just seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Whatever you call it, Billy Kent, president for Schenectady-Belmont Pop Warner, is grateful. As are the more than two dozen 9- and 10-year-olds that make up the Schenectady-Belmont Pop Warner football team.
Following a 10-0 season that saw the team become state champs, the team earned a chance to compete for a national title. All that stood in the way was a $35,000 fundraising goal needed to cover the cost of travel and hotel fees to travel to Orlando, Florida.
With time running out — the playoffs begin Dec. 4 — the odds seemed insurmountable, even for a team that managed to plow through everything that stood in their way.
Then the community rallied around the cause, much like they’ve done all season, said Kent, who became president of the Schenectady Pop Warner program earlier this year following years of involvement.
In a matter of days, the team exceeded its fundraising goal, reaching $38,125 as of Wednesday afternoon, via a GoFundMe campaign launched earlier this week.
The team will travel to Florida, and the extra money raised will cover the travel costs for the program’s three cheerleading teams that were also invited to compete, and help cover the cost for new uniforms and equipment for future seasons.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy and just general positive energy just to know that these kids are going to be able to experience something a lot of them haven’t been able to experience to this point,” Kent said moments after learning the team will be able to compete.
Hundreds of community members donated to the cause, including several local businesses, after news of the program’s situation began to spread.
Mohawk Honda and OrthoNY each donated $5,000 to the cause, and several donations of $500 and $1,000 were made within hours of each other.
Kent said the program has a profound impact on the more than 200 children who compete on the program’s five football teams and four cheerleading teams. He hopes to grow the program to 500 next year and eliminate any sign-up fees.
The lessons, he said, extend beyond the field.
“We preach family, we preach love. We preach being a nice person, a kind person and we show how you can still be tough but you can also be kind. How you can still be competitive but you can also still be compassionate,” he said. “The kids have really taken to that and they are really understanding that.”
Kent said the community’s support will help solidify those lessons.
“They’ve put all this work in and they’ve done all the right things, and now they’re getting shown all that love and respect back,” he said. “I think this is the kind of thing that will help them grow into much better young adults than if they may not have had these types of opportunities.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.