North Philly Blackhawks trying for Pop Warner championship in Florida

 (Kim Paynter/for NewsWorks)

(Kim Paynter/for NewsWorks)

The North Philly Blackhawks are making name for themselves. The team won the Division I Pee Wee football championship game in 2010 and now they’re headed back to the Pop Warner National Championship this weekend.

For one of the last times before the big trip, the Blackhawks ran through a practice under the bright lights at 11th Street and Cecil B Moore. The kids in football gear stood in two lines, taking turns quickly high-stepping through a row of octagons laid out on the field. The players worked hard even though footwork drills are not a fun part of practice.

Head Coach Derrick Williams said dedication explains the team’s success. “In 2010 we went as the PeeWees. I have a few of those kids on this team. Now we’re Midgets ages 13, 14, 15. And we’re trying to bring another National Championship back to Philly.”

Even though 15 year old Devin Darden, a 9th grader at Palumbo Academy, isn’t in a game situation, his tense posture made it look like he could break into a dash at any moment. Darden, the team’s quarterback, and is clearly excited for the opportunity to play for a championship. “There’s no words that can describe it. It’s just a wonderful feeling.”

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If he wasn’t here, Darden said he’d be studying because he believes education comes first. When he grows up he says he hopes to become a landlord like him mom.

Fourteen year old Amir Gillis, a Renaissance man, plays quarterback, linebacker and kicker. “It’s good but I’m almost like the youngest on the team and it’s good it be with other kids that’s older than me and some of them that I can look up to.” Gillis said he dreams of playing in the NFL, but if that doesn’t work out he plans to study accounting in college. His mother, who serves as “Team Mom,” beamed with pride next to him.

Coach Derrick Williams has been guiding this team for 11 years. At just 31 years old he said he is repaying a debt. “I played for the Blackhawks. This program helped me a lot coming up. Giving back. When you have a lot you’re supposed to give a lot.”

Beaming with pride from the sidelines, parent Darrell Brown kept an eye on his son Troy, #44. “I’m an ex-Blackhawk player. I played in the ’70’s. I was team captain. So I’d say I guess my son followed in my footsteps.”

Cornerback Lamaj Gans, aka Short Stack, is slightly taller than he was three years ago when the Blackhawks took the national title as Pee Wees. The 15 year old now goes by the more mature sounding “S.S.” but is still quick to smile and laugh. He said he isn’t blinded by dreams of playing in the NFL. “I ain’t planning my life on being no football player. I want to own my own shop, my own Auto Collision Shop.”

The team needs three more wins to bring home another championship.

Coach Williams said there are other exciting things in the Blackhawks’ future: before next season the team’s divet-plagued field will get a massive facelift.

More information on the North Philly Blachawks can be found here

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