Football team transcends field to measure success

Diane J. Savino

January 21, 2010

NORTH SHORE -- The Staten Island Hurricanes’ youth football organization celebrated a season of success with a pizza party at the Modell’s Sporting Goods store in Travis Sunday.

The party was hosted by state Senator Diane Savino and Modell’s to honor the four age divisions of Hurricanes teams, including the Midget division (13-15 age group) team that won the national championship under head coach Boli Johnson. In fact, each of the Hurricanes’ teams were Big East regional champions and earned a trip to the national tournament in Orlando, Fla.

But Sunday’s party was not just about the travel team organization’s on-field success. It was also about the drive to keep the program strong and viable, with an emphasis on an educational commitment by the players.

Last November, Ms. Savino began a successful community fund-raising effort that allowed all 100 players to compete in the tournament.

“I became aware of the Hurricanes’ organization three years ago while working with Michelle Akyempong (a Hurricanes parent/volunteer) as a (Human Resource Administration) case worker in the city,” said Ms. Savino, who was able to raise more than $11,000 for the Hurricanes, and now hopes to find a permanent home field for them. “She brought to my attention that this was (more than) a team, and it was parent-volunteer driven, without official support. It was the kind of organization we should be involved with. It’s not just about football: These kids have to excel in school and volunteer in the community. It’s all about creating well-rounded adults.”

In the end, getting a solid education is paramount. Assistant coach Jaysen Sullivan said the Midget team sometimes performed Sunday practices at the West Brighton library before hitting the books inside.

“We preach academics, and we have (a number) of former Hurricanes’ players at college (with academic and athletic) scholarships,” said Sullivan, who praised the work of Ms. Savino, her staff and all the sponsors involved.

“At our awards dinner, the award we give for highest achiever in school means as much as the one for the MVP trophy. It doesn’t make sense (to just play football) if you’re not maximizing your potential. This is not just a team, it’s an organization, and I think (Senator Savino) sees what we are doing.”

“This has been a great experience for me,” said Midget division all-purpose player Kareem Reed, who attends Susan Wagner High School and also won a national championship with the Hurricanes’ Pee Wee team three years ago.

“We get a lot of experience, travel to different places, and the competition is good. But if you don’t do good in school, you don’t play. This has all made me a better person, and it has shown the importance of a good education. And we get to be a group that you’ll remember forever.”

Representing Modell’s as Regional Community Ambassador at the party was former Jets cornerback Bobby Jackson, who discussed the sporting goods store’s continuing involvement with youth organizations such as the Hurricanes through donations and sponsorships.

Other contributors to the fund-raising effort were: Assemblyman Matthew Titone; Richmond County Savings Foundation; Staten Island Terminal; Atlantic Salt; Health Plus; Dave Berman; Dock Builders Local; Downtown Business Council, and the Anthony Gaeta Democratic Club.

© 2010