They lost the Super Bowl of Midget Division football by four points yesterday, but to their parents and friends, the boys on the District's Marshall Heights Bison team are still the champs.
With several family members of players gathered to listen to a live Internet audiocast of the game from Walt Disney World in Florida, the Bison lost to the Lake Cypress (Fla.) Hornets, 24-20, in the title game of the youth football league named for the legendary coach Pop Warner.
Cheryl Murphy, the aunt of kicker Eddie Miller, showed up at the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs in Northeast Washington to hear the action along with Eddie's mother, Freda Edwards, and relatives and friends of linebacker Marcus Mitchell. Several parents and other supporters made the trip to Orlando to see the game in person.
Back here, the listeners were transfixed on the play-by-play coming out of speakers attached to a computer terminal. It was kind of like the old days, when a family gathered around the radio to listen to games of their favorite baseball team--and at least as nerve-racking.
Marcus's brother, Michael, got sweaty palms. Marcus's friend, Averi Johnson, fingered the blue, white and gray beads that spell "Cowboys" on his key chain, again and again. Marcus's father, Mickey, frowned into space. "Stop talkin' man! The game's too tight," he snapped at the speakers when the game's announcers got too chatty and ignored the play-by-play.
And Murphy sat hunched over with her ear to the speaker, staring at the floor as she chewed her way through a package of sunflower seeds.
"Nerves," she said.
In the end, the mighty Bison, plagued by penalties throughout the game and frustrated by a Lake Cypress running game that controlled the ball for most of the third quarter, could not overcome the Hornets. It was, said one of the announcers, "one of the closer championship games" in the 70-year history of the Pop Warner league.
"We still love 'em," Murphy said. "They are still awesome."
After the game, Bison coach Andre "Jay" Ford said: "It was the type of game that if it had been played 10 times, we would have come out five games apiece. If there was more time, we might have had a chance at it."
The Bison ended their season 15-2.
The team, part of the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs' Pop Warner Little Scholars Football League, were the champions of the Mid-Atlantic Region. They advanced to the championship game by defeating the Connecticut team, 28-0, on Dec. 5, and a California team, 14-8, on Wednesday.
The Midget Division is made up of players ages 11 through 15 weighing 95 to 145 pounds.
The $47,000 cost of spending the week in Florida was sponsored by the Marshall Heights Economic Development Corp., Ford said. The money was raised between the team's victory in the Mid-Atlantic regional and the beginning of the semifinals in Florida.
"That's very rough on coaches," said Neal Owens, director of athletics for the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs. "Everybody's on pins and needles to see if they can raise the money."
The money paid for room, board and travel for 25 players, five coaches and three teachers, Owens said. Although the players got free week-long passes to Disney World and the chance to hobnob with famous National Football League and college players during the week, they still were required to keep up with their schoolwork. The teachers on the trip oversee the work.
"Education comes first," Owens said.
Players must maintain a 2.0 grade-point average and have a good disciplinary record in school and at home to stay on the team.
The Pop Warner Little Scholars league is a national organization established in 1929 to increase participation in youth football and to instill the values of teamwork, dedication and academics. Children from age 7, at the Mitey-Mite level of play, to age 15, at the Bantam level, participate and compete in football and cheerleading teams.
The Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs have sponsored Pop Warner football teams for the past four years. In 1997, the clubs' Woodbridge Midget Division team came in third in the country.
CAPTION: Supporters of the Marshall Heights Bison cheer when the team scores a touchdown. The Pop Warner league team lost 24-20 in the title game.