Eighteen Jets from Camas and Washougal will touch down in Orlando Dec. 2, and play in the Pop Warner Super Bowl.
“I just hope they take the lessons of hard work and teamwork and working together towards a goal. That’s what they’ve done,” said head coach Steve Speer. “As parents we post pictures on Facebook of all the exciting moments, but these boys have been out there in the 100-degree heat and the rain. I just hope they realize that their hard work pays off, and I hope they remember that through their lives.”
The Junior Pee Wee Jets defeated the Sagebrush Reno Miners 36-12 for the Pacific Northwest Pop Warner Region championship Nov. 20, at Doc Harris Stadium.
“It was a good feeling,” Speer said. “This is the fourth team I’ve brought to the regional championship game in the last 10 years. I certainly didn’t expect the outcome that we got.”
This is the first team from East County Pop Warner to qualify for the national championships. Games will be played Dec. 3 to 10, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. All of the players receive six-day passes to the Disney World parks. One the evenings, all of the parks will be closed to everyone but Pop Warner players.
“It’s important to me that these kids slow down and take it all in,” Speer said. “As a parent trying to organize the trip, raise the funds and everything, it’s such a blur right now. I hope it’s a different experience for the boys. I hope they can enjoy it. I hope we can, too, once we get there.”
Coaches, parents and players are asking community members and local businesses for donations and sponsorships to help pay for their travel expenses to Orlando. The team has a gofundme page, at https://www.gofundme.com/camas-jets-popwarner-super-bowl
Those 18 Jets are Sam Speer, Nikko Speer, Alex Nalepa, Taylor Ioane, Cooper Maxey, Owen Givens, Jake Davidson, Marcel Hampton, Justyn Robarge, Ryan Hodge, Jacob Phillips, Jaxson Rodgers, Jaxson Sharp, Mason Mathison, Riley Brown, Trenton Swanson, Kai Tiantawach and Jacob Hudson. Coaches are Steve Speer, Brent Maxey, Lou Nalepa, Robert Givens, Eric Davidson, Jack Lemieux, Will Swanson and Mat Ioane Jr.
The Jets went into this season with 16 players, which is the minimum to field a team. That meant if someone got hurt, sick or couldn’t make it to the game, the team would have to forfeit. The coaches met with the parents to talk about the possibility of having to break the team up. Coach Givens said the parents decided unanimously that they were all in.
“Some of the boys had been playing together for six years,” he said. “The thought of breaking them up was simply too much to bear.”
The kids buckled down, and committed to playing offense and defense. Two more football players joined the fleet, and they just started winning.
“The boys formed a brotherhood and overcame their opponents with heart, courage, love of teammates and good old fashioned grit,” Givens said.
Speer thanks the Camas High School football coaches and players for taking the time to reach out to their team, and teach, encourage and support them. He hopes to see these Jets playing football for the Papermakers some day.
“Honestly, we are a symptom of what Jon Eagle and the high school staff have created. It’s just trickled down,” Speer said. “These kids are excited to come out to the high school games on Fridays, and they just can’t wait to get out there and play, and wear that ‘Camas’ name.”
The journey to Orlando will be a life-changing experience for all of these Jets. Thanks to them, every East County Pop Warner football player believes they have a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
“This team is tough. They are way more physical than most kids their age,” Speer said. “And quite frankly, they don’t care. They just keep playing football. They’ll go on the road. They’ll go anywhere. They like to be the visitor. I think that their toughness is what separates them.”