Photo by Katie Fuller

By Tim Oakley

In the beginning of August, a group of 30-some boys gathered at the high school to begin their training as a Pee Wee football team.  The age of the boys spans from 8 to 11-years-old.  For many this was their first experience with highly-competitive team sports.  Little guys of different sizes, interests, race, financial background, and schools (Colden, St. Al’s and Springville) worked together under the tremendous tutelage of a dedicated coaching staff.  Coaches Baker and Bobseine proved to be exemplary role models for the children, and with the assistance of some other parents, the Pee Wee Griffins brought home the first PeeWee Championship in our town’s history.

The importance of football in these young boys’ lives was evident on a daily basis.  While other kids sat at home playing video games, these young men got dressed in their football pads and cleats and went to work.  Running laps, doing push ups and bear crawls was just a part of the everyday workout that helped these boys realize their potential.  Often times, onlookers of practice would be filled with warmth as they watched the smaller, faster boys finish their laps just to turn around and run alongside the stronger, larger boys struggling to finish.  This type of teamwork and brotherly love is what good coaching and team sports conjures up within our children.

As the season neared its end, 10-year-old boys who couldn’t finish a lap in August had now started to finish the laps quickly and had the endurance to immediately begin the next drill.  While speaking with some of the boys on the team, I was constantly told the same thing by these young men.  Each one of them had developed an incredible amount of pride for the first time in their lives.  The ability to work hard all week and then perform for their families and friends on the weekend means the world to these developing Americans. I had multiple children tell me how they used to feel awkward in school because they spoke a little funny, or they weighed more than their peers, or because they didn’t have the new fancy sneakers others had.  Each of those kids said that football made all that anxiety go away.  Instead, now these boys had an extended family at school.  They had gained a sense of accomplishment and self worth that made them impervious to bullying.

As a father of one of Coach Baker’s players, I couldn’t say enough about the atmosphere created, as it wasn’t just about football; it was about respect, love, hard work and being a stand up American.

As for the game, Springville traveled to where the hills have eyes, deep in the hills of Cattaraugus.  After turning onto E. Otto Road a dozen times (they name every street E. Otto apparently), the players arrived at the beautiful green and blue turf field of the Cattaraugus/Little Valley (CLV) Timberwolves.  This field is used to host the Championship games for PeeWee and Midget football due to it being the best playing surface in the conference.  Springville faced against the hosting Timberwolves for the Super Bowl B championship.  Rumor has it that this was to be Coach Baker’s last game and this team was determined to send him off with his first Championship trophy.

As play began, the Griffins showed CLV that it was going to be a long game for them.  DT Ronan Annunziata out-muscled the offensive line on nearly every play, often times beating two linemen to make the tackle in the backfield.  The first score of the game came from a 20+ yard pass by QB Trey Zittel to TE Max Dell and SGI took an 8-0 lead.  The Timberwolves tried to throw the ball themselves, but DB Dan Runyan made them pay with a beautiful interception as he rose above a mashup of players to take the ball away.  Springville then converted on the turnover with a TD run by the bruising RB Griffin Mckinsey.  Mckinsey showed all year that he was too strong and fast for the opponents, as he would often carry the ball for 10+ yards while running directly over multiple defenders.  Springville controlled field position all game in large part because of numerous 45+ yard punts by Lennon Murphy.  The Griffins took a 19-0 lead in the second half on another great throw by Zittel to TE Max Dell.  Incredible blocking by Tyler Meade, Joe Hoffman and Nolan Miller gave Zittel enough time to roll to his right and hit Dell on a well thrown TD pass.

The Timberwolves scored once against the second team defense on a long run to the outside, but their conversion attempt was denied by Rowen Oakley as he undercut the WR route and picked off the pass.  Cattaraugus tried to mount a second scoring drive, but DE Bailey Martinez wasn’t going to let that happen.  CLV snapped the ball on third down and their QB was immediately pancaked by Martinez as the young man destroyed his block and put an exclamation point on the resounding Griffin victory.