Oakland Pop Warner team overwhelmed by donations from community

A staggering amount of last-minute support from hundreds of donors has saved the season for the players on the East Bay Warriors’ under-10 Pop Warner football team whose families couldn’t afford to send them to the national championships.

Less than 48 hours ago, the Oakland-based team was in danger of having to leave a few players behind because the $1,000 fee to travel to Orlando, Fla. for next week’s nationals was cost prohibitive for their families.

In all, the Warriors needed to pay roughly $30,000 to send all 30 of the team’s players on the 10-day trip to play against the best teams in the country at the Universal Studios complex. A GoFundMe account set up nearly three weeks ago to aid the Warriors’ cause had by Monday generated $18,000, which would offset more than half the costs, but wouldn’t allow every player to make the once-in-a-lifetime trip.

That all changed on Wednesday.

The Warriors were stunned to see a flood of donations that raised a game-changing $90,000 by late Wednesday night. Hundreds of people from all parts of the Bay Area flooded the Warriors’ GoFundMe page with donations after a story appearing in this news organization detailed the Warriors’ plight.

“It’s unreal … really unbelievable!” Warriors coach Michael Ott said during a phone call Wednesday night. “We were not at all expecting this. We’re all blown away.

“Some of the parents were in tears when they saw it this morning. These aren’t folks who get a lot of big-time support.”

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The $90,000 donated will not only cover the $30,000 travel fee for all the players, it will allow the Warriors to eliminate all costs for each family. For many of the families, the hundreds of dollars spent on the Warriors’ registration fees and uniforms before the season had already represented a real financial setback. Ott is extremely thankful that the Warriors will be able to take care of all expenditures for the boys, including food and spending money, on their trip beginning Dec. 2.

The team also plans to rent buses while in Orlando and take the boys to Disney World as a treat for their undefeated season thus far.

“No family is paying anything on this trip,’’ said the appreciative coach who has spent more than a decade coaching young football players in West Oakland.

Ott said the money leftover will be applied to registration fees next season for the players. In addition, after years of having to hand out old equipment to players, Ott anticipates being able to finally provide the kids with new helmets and shoulder pads.

The outpouring of support from more than 500 people included a significant donation from a charity run by former Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame coach John Madden and his sons. Their donation was accompanied by a note: “Oakland and Football! Still a winning combination! Go get ‘em!”

The Warriors’ financial struggles resonated with one man who said he played Pop Warner football for the Oakland Junior Raiders from 1970-73. The man, who now owns his own renovation and construction company in Moraga, said his experiences playing youth football changed his life. And he wanted to help make sure the Warriors had that same opportunity.

Ott and the Warriors, who have been dealing with a sub-par home football field at Raimondi Park in West Oakland, also got a huge helping hand from Laney College and its head football coach, John Beam on Wednesday.

Beam, who has had many East Bay Warriors alumni on his nationally known Laney teams over the years, has arranged for Ott’s team to practice at Laney College next week.

The Warriors have not been able to practice as much as they’d like after they earned a berth in the nationals on Nov. 7 by winning the Pacific Northwest Regional Championship. Because Raimondi Park’s lights have only worked sparingly this year, the Warriors’ hopes of practicing for more than an hour on their home field ended when Daylight Savings ended on Nov. 8. The only practices they’ve had under the lights were a few at Castlemont High as well as some on a patch of grass at Jefferson Square Park.

The more Ott spoke about the generosity from so many people in the community, the more amazed he seemed to be.

“The money is great, but it’s 500 different people helping us that really gets me. It takes your breath away, the way the community has responded,” Ott said. “All the messages we’re getting from people, talking about how important sports is and how it saved their lives .. it’s amazing.

“This is all because people in our community have connected with what we’re going through and it’s so amazing.”

For those interested in contributing to the East Bay Warriors’ efforts to travel to Orlando, Fla for the Pop Warner nationals, here is a link to their GoFundMe page.

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