Greg Bonner walked along the sidelines of the well-manicured field in the Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World and shook his head.
“It was surreal,” Bonner said, “because I had seen those fields on ESPN for so many years”
Bonner, assistant head coach of the Northwest Raiders, had been there as a spectator, “but to actually walk on that field was something else.”
One week ago the team from West Oak Lane went down to Orlando, Florida and won the Pop Warner National Super Bowl Championship for the “Midget” division. The Raiders beat the New Britain Raiders of Connecticut, 26-6.
In the tournament, the team that trained and played on a dusty field and in thick clouds of stale smoke stood up to the teams that play on artificial surfaces and freshly painted goal posts.
Connecticut might have had top of the line equipment, but they didn’t have the toughness.
“Even when it was raining and it was 30 degrees out, we were out there practicing,” at Martin Luther King High School’s field, coach Bonner said, “and I think that made us a better team. We were better for it.”
“We have to go through a little bit more because we don’t have the turf facilities,” Bonner added. “I think it’s also a passion.”
This wasn’t the first trip to the championship game for the group, which range in age between 12 and 15. The team went to the midget championship in 2010 and 2011, but were blown out in both games.
“We were just happy to be there,” coach Bonner said. “This time we were more prepared. We had more experience.”
Raiders’ starting quarterback, the coach’s son, 16-year-old Naeem Bonner, said all the teams in the tournament were missing a key element.
“The Connecticut team just couldn’t measure up to the level of our aggressiveness and the confidence we have in each other,” Bonner said. “We play on grass, and it’s muddy and dirty, and when we go to Florida the field is nice and I think that plays into our hands,” Naeem said.