The South East Valley (SEV) Junior Midget Wildcats and the Pee Wee Wildcats are heading to Florida to compete on the national stage at the American Youth Football (AYF) National Championship tournament Dec. 7.
The Pee Wee Wildcats (11-0) finished its regular season as conference champions, where as the Junior Midget Wildcats (10-1) ended up losing in the conference championship, ending their hopes of receiving an invitation to nationals.
However, by a stroke of luck the South Region Champions, for unknown reasons, was unable to fulfill their bid, giving the Junior Midget Wildcats a wildcard birth and a second opportunity to compete in Florida.
Greg Gavel, head coach, has been affiliated with the Wildcats organization since 2001, and believes the team shares a family bond with one another.
Gavel said the team has shown success over the years, where in 2011 the Wildcats won their first state championship and placed second in nationals.
“It was a fantastic season. Sort of a magical, Cinderella type of season,” he said.
The following year about half of the players aged out of the team and the other half were eligible to stay on the team, and in 2012 the coaching staff decided to split the team into two meeting each age requirement.
The two teams are made up of middle school kids across the Valley from Tempe, Chandler and Ahwatukee, who are eager to play the sport.
The younger Pee Wee Wildcats age group is from 11 and 12 years old, whereas the Junior Midget Wildcats are 12 and 13 years old.
Ahwatukee resident Alex Vogel began playing for the Wildcats four years ago and has been enjoying his experience on the team playing corner position.
“Everyone works well together and we are a good team,” he said.
Vogel, who was on the 2011 Wildcat team that placed second in nationals, is looking forward to being on the main stage again and to compete at his full potential.
Gavel believes that the team has shown success on the gridiron due to team chemistry and the unrelenting commitment they receive from each of their family members.
“We have an absolute commitment of excellence with our families and with the players. We have an exceptional coaching staff, we have terrific parents that really buy in and accept that their child may not be a star on the team, but is a role player and contributes,” he said. “We treat this as something bigger than just a team that your son is on, we treat this as something that is part of your family. This is a family experience.”
Although showing success on the field is important to the coaching staff, being successful in the classroom is another aspect the Wildcats’ staff instills in each of its players.
During last Thursday’s filming session, coaches handed out awards for their Academic All-Stars who have shown exceptional work in academics.
Gavel said of the 42 players on both teams, more than 30 qualified for AYF Academic All-American, which requires players to have a 3.5 or higher GPA.
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