Ronnie Polaneczky: 'Practice' squad misses cut for youth team's Super Bowl trip

Posted: December 13, 2011

LET'S START with the good stuff: The Enon Eagles are one heck of a kids' football team.

After just six years in operation, the Eagles' junior midget team of 135-pounders - part of a Pop Warner community league sponsored by Enon Tabernacle Church in Cedarbrook - made it all the way to Pop Warner's 2011 Super Bowl Championships last week at Disney World.

Credit goes to Coach Ray Wright, whom families praise for coaxing stellar effort from his players (listen up, Andy Reid!).

In Florida, Wright's Eagles nailed their first game against the Cedar Crest Comets, from Texas. But they fell, in their second game, to the North Raleigh Bulldogs, out of North Carolina.

The loss ended the kids' pigskin participation, but not their fun. Along with Enon staffers, coaches, cheerleaders and family members, the team watched the remaining games, explored Disney World and bonded at a dinner dance highlighted on the team's Facebook fan page.

"What happened in Disney stays in Disney!!! Lol," posted one woman.

Others used words like "blessed," "awesome," "proud" and "thankful" about a weeklong trip that sounds like it was a blast from start to finish.

No wonder it was so tough for 14-year-old Jarrett Walker to read the Facebook fan page. He kept seeing all he was missing.

Jarrett joined the Enon team in August. He'd never played football, though, so he was told that, along with two other kids, he would be on the "practice" squad.

Jarrett's mom, Jessica Shaw, says she was assured that "practice" members are still full-fledged Enon Eagles. They're expected to attend every training session and suit up for every game. But they can't play in official games until their skills improve enough to be able to prevent injuring themselves.

"I really liked it," says Jarrett, an eighth-grader at AMY Northwest (Academy for the Middle Years), in East Mount Airy. "I made good friends."

When the Eagles clinched a spot in the Super Bowl, the families attended a meeting at church to learn the particulars of the Florida jaunt. According to Shaw, they were told that Enon would help pick up the tab for the players, with a big assist from private donors tapped by the city (which also helped three other youth football teams attend national-championship competitions).

"It was a great meeting; everyone was really excited," says Shaw. "We were even told to make sure the children got school assignments to take to Florida, because there would be homework sessions all week."

But the day after the meeting, Shaw learned that Jarrett and the two other boys on the practice squad would not be going to Florida. She said Coach Wright told her that he'd tried to intervene with Enon leaders but that there were no spots left for the three boys to participate in the trip.

"Coaches of other [Enon] teams got to go," says Shaw. "Some Enon people got to go. Even the cheerleaders got to go! But there was no space for the practice players? It was wrong."

That's when Shaw called the Daily News for help. But I couldn't get answers, either, beyond this vague statement emailed by the church after I spoke with Frances Jones, Enon's press person:

"The parents of each member of the Enon Eagles team, including the practice team, were apprised of the guidelines for travel to the championship game in Florida. The church regrets any misinterpretation or confusion experienced by parents or guardians of the young people that play for the team."

Shaw says there were no "guidelines," an impression shared by another "practice" squad mom, Latocka DeShields, whose son, Brandon, was also excluded.

"He was pretty disappointed," says DeShields.

Both women say they were eventually told that Coach Wright, in submitting the roster of players to Enon, had forgotten to include his practice members - an error that, for some reason, was unfixable.

Neither Wright nor Enon athletic director Redell Crabbe nor youth director Tracey Thomas returned calls for clarification. So I couldn't learn why three great kids were denied the chance of a lifetime to share in the result of their team's hard work and dedication.

"We will have no further comment," said a spokeswoman for the Rev. Dr. Alyn Waller, Enon's senior pastor.

Too bad. Because I would've told whomever would listen that, despite the faux pas, Enon must be doing something right by its young athletes.

Just ask Jarrett. Despite being dissed by his team, he wants to play for Enon again next season.

"I think I'm ready for the regular team," he says emphatically. "I know how to position my body now for a tackle. I didn't before."

He can't wait.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com. Call 215-854-2217. Twitter: RonniePhilly.

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