D.C. hosted the Eastern Regional Pop Warner football finals for the first time Saturday.
Teams from across the East Coast competed, hoping to advance to the Pop Warner Superbowl. Three local Pee Wee teams will represent the district at the championships in Florida in two weeks.
D.C.'s Watkins junior pee-wees secured their spot.
"There's 17 kids. Twelve of them I've had since they were 6-years-old, and that's why...the gratitude feels so good because I saw as they grew as young men," said Coach Eric McKan.
The hard part for many of the team's families will be collecting $2,000 per player for travel, accommodations and tickets to Disney World.
Parent Chaquede Jackson said, "We are looking for all donations. Anything can help. We really appreciate it."
Team officials say at least two of the children are displaced or homeless. And in the past year, the fathers of two players were killed violently.
"I don't want it to affect me but it happened," says Charles Bell, whose father was shot and killed on Galveston St., SW in 2010.
"It's hard not to have a dad," says Anwa Wren. Her dad was shot and killed in Capitol Heights in 2005.
"A lot of them come from difficult situations. Growing up in the inner city in D.C. is not easy," Serena Hargraves, another parent, added.
Pop Warner is the only youth sports organization with an academic requirement - a 2.0 GPA or better.
For many of the children, the trip to Florida was a big motivator.
D.C.'s Department of Parks and Recreation says it will provide limited financial support. But corporate sponsors are also being sought.
"I mean, it's a fantastic opportunity for them, not just to compete, but also to have the opportunity to travel on a national stage. I mean, it's really unparalleled for some of these kids," said D.C.'s Department of Parks and Recreation's Jesus Aguirre.
With less than two weeks, the football players and their parents are planning last minute fundraisers.
Hargraves added, "When you work hard at anything in life, there's going to be opportunity...that's what we teach our children, and they're moving forward, taking this first step."
This is the Pop Warner championship's 14th year at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Sixty-four teams will compete, with children ranging in age from 6-16.
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