Beacon House Falcons Win Super Bowl

By Delphine Schrank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 10, 2007

In a journey that took them from the battered field near their oft-troubled Northeast Washington housing project to the national football championships in the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Orlando, the 31 members of the Beacon House Falcons 90-pound Peewee Division team clinched the 2007 title Saturday.

A police escort, welcome-home banners and balloons festooning the entrance to Edgewood Terrace greeted the team of 10- to 12-years-olds yesterday morning, celebrating their 15-game sweep this season.

Down eight points at halftime in Saturday's final, they fought back to win, 34-14.

"I had to pull my team together at halftime," said Falcons' quarterback Tony "T.O." Hansford, 12, bleary-eyed from a nap on the living-room couch yesterday and still wearing his jersey, which he said he hadn't removed in the overnight trip home. "We were down 14 to 6, and I said, 'We have two quarters left, and we going to go out there and win.' "

The Beacon House center offers educational and cultural programs for more than 300 disadvantaged children, most from Edgewood Terrace, a complex of subsidized public and private housing where they often encounter drugs or violence, executive director Stacey Erd said. In addition to the tutoring and mentoring they get at the nonprofit center, many play on its Pop Warner football teams, which run from Junior Peewee to Midget.

Although the Beacon teams have won numerous city and eastern region league division games, the 90-pound Peewees were the first to make it to Walt Disney World for the championship.

"It's truly a life-altering experience for the kids," said Erd, who followed the game from Washington in a blow-by-blow delivered via text message from her deputy. "Many had never been on an airplane. Many had not been to Florida. . . . And many were truly in awe."

But for a moment after the team won the eastern league in New Jersey, it wasn't clear whether they would make it south.

"The trip cost about $50,000," Erd said. "We had five days to come up with the money."

Fannie Mae stepped in to cover the group's hotel and travel costs.

Between study hall and games Dec. 1 and Wednesday, there were few opportunities to take advantage of Disney World's rides.

It was "practice, practice, practice, practice, practice," Beacon House athletic director Rodney Cephas said. "It really became about more than football. It really was hard work, discipline, sportsmanship and teamwork" that got them through.

And a little surge of confidence-building at halftime.

After knocking out the Mission Hill Bucs of Massachusetts, 34-0, and the championship favorite Coul Oak Steelers from North Carolina, also 34-0, they fell behind in the championship game.

Then in stepped Tony, nicknamed T.O. in his first year with the peewees for Terrell Owens of the Dallas Cowboys.

His Pop Warner medal already strung above his bed, Tony now dreams of the National Football League. But first he graduates to the Junior Midgets, he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company