RALEIGH Coach Trevor Thomas joined the North Raleigh Bulldogs program back in 2003 and has seen all three of his children play in the red and white. In his 13 years with the team, he’s never seen a team like his Pee Wee squad this year.After three years together with the same core group of players and Thomas as their coach, the 2016 Pee Wee Red team went from .500 to undefeated. At 9-0, the Bulldogs are heading to the Super Bowl under Thomas.”I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Thomas said. “We thought we could be pretty good, but we didn’t expect this. It didn’t start this year, though. I started this as a dad wanting to coach my son, but I had to start all over again here with my third son. It was tough because we were competitive at the older level, then I had to start all over again. Seeing these boys get to this level has made it all worth it.”This marks the sixth straight season at least one North Raleigh team has made the trip to Orland, Fla. for the Pop Warner Super Bowl. In fact, the Junior Varsity Black team is also heading to Disney, just the third time in program history that multiple teams have gone.So why is the Pee Wee Red team different? It is the first time a Pee Wee team in Division I has ever qualified for the National Championship. The Bulldogs also had to take down the Virginia Beach Mustangs, 24-20, the defending champions in their age division to simply make the Super Bowl.After being moved up to the top level in Pop Warner for its age bracket, Thomas never doubted his team was good enough to compete.”It was a challenge, but that’s what makes our story even better,” he said. “Not to say that we couldn’t do it, but no one has ever came out of this region at this level. To come out of this conference, at this level, makes it even more unique with the competition we’ve faced.”It’s one thing to have the talent to reach the Super Bowl, but it’s a completely different battle to find the financial backing. Unlike high school, college or professional football where teams get support from the school, North Raleigh has to rely on its families and the community.Players, parents and coaches set up outside of a Kroger recently to take donations, raising around $1,000 at that stop. The team has set up a gofundme page to raise funds, but has less than $6,000 of its $30,000 goal at the time of this article. With 25 players on the roster, Thomas estimated it costs each player a minimum of $1,000.”There’s a burden placed on the families to get their children down there,” Thomas explained, “because you have to stay on the Disney resort, which makes it tough to afford for every family. And at this time of year, after Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, there are some difficult financial decisions that have to be made.”North Raleigh Pee Wee Red’s first game will be played on Sunday at 6 p.m. and will determine whether the Bulldogs continue to the semifinals or consolation round on Tuesday..”When I first got here in 2003, we were just hoping to get to .500,” Thomas said with a laugh. “We’re way past that now and have a history of success here. Now the perception is that we send teams to Florida all the time. If we can come back with a Division I trophy, that would prove just how far we’ve come.”Along with North Raleigh’s two teams, five other N.C. programs will be sending teams to Disney. The lone Division I team will be the Greensboro Ravens, who participate in the Unlimited Division. The McAdenville Dolphins (Jr. Pee Wee) and Wilmington Eagles (Pee Wee) will both play for the Division II crown. Both the Knightdale Dragons and Jacksonville Storm will be eyeing the Jr. Pee Wee championship in Division III.
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