Expectations were high for the Watkins Hornets youth football team as it prepared to do something that no one had ever done before — win a fourth straight Pop Warner Super Bowls championship. The Southeast Washington-based program had defied many odds by building a successful program in one of the most troubled areas of the city.
But it was not to be as the Hornets placed fourth in the tournament. Still, the inability to win a championship does not take away from the program and what it has accomplished.
“This is an unbelievable group of young men,” said Chuck Holton, vice president of ClockBoyz, the organization which oversees the team’s operations.
“They have been through invaluable life experiences. They went undefeated at 11 Under but turned around and lost three games. Then they still went on to win a championship at 12 Under. As far as I am concerned, they are winners.”
It has been a great run for the Hornets who have had the opportunity to travel to Arizona, Las Vegas, Georgia and Florida during their young lives.
“I grew up in the DMV area and very few young people from this neighborhood get a chance to travel outside of the city,” said Antonio Barr, president and co-founder of Clock Boyz. “We drew up the blueprint for all this and it is gratifying to see it come to fruition.”
The experience has not only afforded an opportunity for travel; it has helped mold and inspire the youth.
Swandea Denson, a parent of the one of the team members, offered her perspective.
“It is amazing how Taariq has benefitted from his experience with this program,” she said. “He started out with Barry Farms but things did not work out. This has helped him both in his academics as well as helping him to mature. The coaches in the organization teach valuable lessons both on and off the field.”
Denson’s son, Taariq Denson, has developed into a premier running back for the Hornets and is rated the No. 6 running back in the country in his age group.
The 13-year old, now entertaining offers from some of the top local schools in the area, reflected on his years with the program and what it has done for him.
“Actually, the biggest thing that I have gained from the experience is how to be responsible,” he said. “I had the chance to show my skills on a national level and I’ve learned how important it is having the grades and discipline that will help me succeed in the future.”
Meanwhile, the organization’s success has not gone unnoticed by recruiters. Barr said in efforts to gain greater exposure for his talented group, the organization has invited some of the country’s elite teams to come to the DMV and play the game they enjoy.
“We have all the major high school football programs come to our practices at one time or another,” Barr said. “It represents a very talented group.”
Prior to the trip to Orlando, several of the players had to delay their departure — and for good reason.
“Eighteen of the players were scheduled to take high school placement tests,” Barr said with pride. “This is a pivotal time for them as they move forward.”
For the group, many of whom have been together for as long as seven years, they will now move on to the next competitive level.
But Holton said the relationship does not end there.
“This is a special group,” he said. “I promised them that I will follow each and every one of them in their careers. It is like a brotherhood. We have a bond that will never be broken.”