The Edgewood Recreation Center looks like just another worn-out city playground. A field that has too much dirt and not enough grass stretches between a pair of empty baseball diamonds. Just past the Northeast Washington center, traffic rumbles down Franklin Street. A siren wails in the warm, November evening.
But looks can be deceiving. This is a field of champions.
The Beacon House Falcons are five-time Pop Warner football city champions in the Junior Peewee division. They stand in a circle on the Edgewood field under the dim yellow glow of the streetlights, doing their calisthenics. The boys, ages 8 to 11, bark out the exercise counts as their coaches huddle off to the side and discuss the Falcons' game this Sunday in New Jersey, the first round of the eastern regional playoffs.
Next, without a word from their coaches, the boys begin to run the hill beside the center. Over and over, the boys -- in helmets and shoulder pads that seem too big for their slender shoulders -- charge up the hill, touch the fence and run back down.
"We tell them they've got to do it on their own, the jumping jacks and the running," explains Rodney Cephas. "Don't wait for the coaches to tell you what to do."
Cephas is the athletic and recreation director at Beacon House, which offers educational and cultural programs for kids in the Edgewood Terrace neighborhood. More than 115 kids play on Beacon House's five Pop Warner teams. Beacon House also sponsors boys and girls basketball and coed baseball teams.
It's the football Falcons who bring back the most championships to the Beacon House trophy case. But the Falcons are not just about playing football. Cephas says most of the players also attend the after-school homework club at Beacon House. All of the kids have to keep up their grades in order to play. And six of the best former Falcons have gone on to attend Christchurch School, a high school in Virginia.
None of this is easy. The Falcons' families and Beacon House don't have a lot of money. "Coaching in the inner city is more than just coaching on the field," Cephas says.
"You got to be a big brother and uncle to a lot of the kids," agrees Maurice Vaughn, head coach of the Junior Peewee Falcons.
Still, the Falcons keep bringing home wins, and more. Kayvone Spriggs, a 13-year-old running back who has played for the Falcons for six years, knows what he has learned from the team: "Respect. . . . If you don't have respect for one another on game day, it just won't work."
As night closes in around the Edgewood Recreation Center, the Junior Peewee team practices another play.
The Beacon House Falcons are working on another championship.
Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's Friday sports column and is the author of sports novels for kids.