Dec 06, 2006 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Championship football has arrived in Camillus — with a young and fresh face that might hold wonderful promise for the future.
The actual delivery date was Nov. 26, on a field in Toms River, N.J., where the West Genesee Wildcats Junior Pee Wee South team beat Dorchester (Md.) 28-6 in the Pop Warner Eastern Regional championship game.
This completed a perfect 12-0 season for the Wildcats, a team composed of 28 kids, ages 10 and 11, that worked for nearly four months to reach this pinnacle.
Under the tutelage of coaches Pat Donegan, Steve Sauro, Matt Wadach, Bill Emmanuelli and Mark Childs, the Wildcats began practice way back on Aug. 1 at the Richard Frescina Athletic Complex on Pottery Road.
For four days a week, two hours a day, the Wildcats honed their skills throughout August. Wadach said his staff emphasized simplicity — and having fun in installing the team’s winning formula.
“We really pushed the fundamentals,” he said.
Once school started, the kids continued to work hard three nights a week, plus Saturday games, as the regular season got underway.
During that regular season, the Wildcats played eight times and won all of them with relative ease, and the defense played a starring role. At one point, the team recorded four consecutive shutouts.
“We had solid depth on both offense and defense, and were great at the skill positions,” said Sauro.
All of this led to the CNY Junior Pee Wee South League championship game Oct. 29 at Alliance Bank Stadium. Amid the grand setting, the Wildcats beat Baldwinsville 12-0, yet another shutout that delivered a title.
Now came the four-round Eastern Regional playoffs. Sauro said the team had a lot of good fortune in this tournament, drawing a first-round bye and not having to leave Central New York until the finals.
Debuting in the regional quarterfinals at Henninger High School’s Sunnycrest Field, the Wildcats continued to roll, beating the Hudson Valley Knights 26-6.
A week later, in the semifinals, the Wildcats were back at Sunnycrest, this time to face the Delco Panthers, from Pennsylvania. It proved to be the season’s most exciting contest.
All through a wild and rain-soaked first half, the two sides exchanged touchdowns, but the Wildcats never surrendered the lead — in fact, it would never face a deficit all season.
At game’s end, the Wildcats had held on for a 27-25 victory, the first time any West Genesee Athletic Club team had beaten an out-of-state foe in post-season competition, and it was on to the finals.
Knowing that its team could reach the finals, the West Genesee Athletic Club increased its fund-raising efforts, from the selling of raffle tickets and a bottle drive, to a concession stand at the Delco game that netted more than $1,300 for the trip.
Still, parents covered most of the costs as the Wildcat contingent — players, coaches, cheerleaders, parents and friends — made the trip to New Jersey. Sauro said that approximately 300 people were in the group.
Everyone stayed in the same hotel, creating, as Wadach called it, “a really good family atmosphere.” They had a pizza party the night before the game, but the real fun came on Sunday morning, when it was game time.
“It was Americana at its finest,” said Sauro.
Fans decorated their cars and painted their faces in support of the Wildcats. And the game had a Super Bowl-like atmosphere with, among other things, a professional announcer who traveled from Georgia and elaborate pre-game introductions where every player from West Genesee and Dorchester walked through a cloud of smoke onto the field.
And once it got to the finals, said Sauro, there was no need to give the kids any extra motivation.
“We didn’t have to say a word to them,” said Sauro. “And we played the best game that we played all year.”
The Wildcats returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and controlled things from there, not allowing a point until the game’s final minutes and executing to near-perfection on both ends of the field.
And now, armed with medals and trophies, the Wildcats are back home, the young pride of an entire community. Wadach said one of the big benefits of this championship is that it will increase interest in football across Camillus.
“It will keep kids coming back,” he said.