HAMLET — “How do you feel?”
“How do you feel?” Mike Littles, coach of the 8U Richmond Warriors team, asks a second time.
“Great!” reply about 80 kids ages 7 to 14, who a few seconds prior were playing a no-rules, impromptu football game in the middle of the Hamlet Parks and Recreation Center on Spring Street, and who are now locked in to Littles’ speech. He talks about respect and discipline, and what it means for them to have made it to the end of their season.
The Warriors competed against AAU teams that were much more experienced than they were this season. Even though they didn’t win many games, Littles said they held their own and grew as individuals and as a team. The 12-year-olds made the playoffs this season, the first Warrior team to do so.
“We went from nowhere to one of the top teams,” Littles said of his 8-year-olds to the parents gathered in the gym for their awards ceremony. “Nobody thought we’d win one game.”
What started with five kids playing at Rohanen Middle School last summer evolved into what is now a thriving football community of more than 80 kids, parents and coaches, with even bigger things in store. Jose Colon, co-founder of 3D Youth, a 501c3 nonprofit and the banner organization over the Richmond Warriors, hopes that the football program can merge with an entrepreneurship program where kids can have a nurturing educational environment and they can learn “skills for life” such as tying a tie and putting together a resume.
“For a lot of the kids, we are their fathers,” said Antoine Shaw, co-founder of 3D Youth. “They would be doing something they didn’t have any business doing otherwise.”
3D Youth got approval from the Dobbins Heights Town Council to use the town’s community center to hold classes in September. The classes are planned to start in January, according to Colon.
Monday night was the awards banquet for the four age groups (ages eight, 10, 12 and 14). The players got medals for staying with the league, footballs for special recognition and rings for MVP. There was also a humanitarian and “ultimate warrior” award for the whole league. The humanitarian award went to the player who “made it his job” to be a good example to the others as a friend. The ultimate warrior award went to the player with the most hustle.
As each of Littles’ players walked up to accept their medals, he said a few words about each one. One was hard to find at practice. One was the hardest hitter on the team, rivaling that of the 14 year-olds but had to do better in the classroom. One could be an all-time great middle linebacker when he grows up.
Colon said his goal is for 3D Youth to grow into Richmond County’s own Boys and Girls Club where the kids can study, exercise and be kids in a safe environment year-round.
“[Being part of 3D Youth] changes the way they act in the street,” Colon said. “We’re trying to provide these kids with good experiences.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]