ST. PETERSBURG –The Lake Maggiore Gators football teams held their home openers Sat., Aug. 22 at Gibbs High School, with the action kicking off at 9 a.m. All age groups competed against the DeLand Dawgs, including Flag (4-6 year olds), Mitey Mites (7, 8), PeeWees (9, 10), Juniors (11, 12) and Seniors (13, 14). Though the Dawgs had their day on Saturday by sweeping the games, a great time was had by all.
“The kids have been wonderful,” said Anthony Hart, president of the program. “We’ve got 18-20 kids on each football team and 6-8 girls on each cheerleading squad. It’s a work in progress and we can only get better. We’re going to strive to get better.”
Hart did note that at times it has been an uphill battle since the league came into existence back in February, as he has struggled to even secure a field to hold games and practices. He had hoped that the city would come through in helping provide a place for the kids to play and possibly even sponsoring the league, but when that fell through Hart struck a deal with Gibbs High to use its football field for home games and adjacent clay baseball field for practices.
The league is billed $5,000 for the use of the fields for the year, and though Hart has managed to get some local businesses to sponsor the start-up league, coming up with the funds has been a challenge for Hart and the other board members.
Willie Davis, vice president of the football program, echoed Hart’s sentiments but expressed confidence that the organization will soon hit its stride.
“It’s our first year and it’s been a very trying year,” admitted Davis, “but we’ve got the right personnel to be able to carry on with this league, and I believe this league will be a success.”
The organization is determined to help the young participants not only succeed in athletics but also academics, and offers tutoring for the participants every Monday in Hart’s office at 1221 22nd St. S. in St. Pete.
“We have a couple of assistant teachers and people with the school board that are a part of the organization,” Davis explained. “Their kids play, or their nephews or nieces.”
He also noted that the league requires the juniors and seniors to bring in last year’s report cards, so they can monitor how the participants are progressing from last year to this year. Davis added that “their overall conduct and attitude at school” is just as important as keeping up good grades.
Yelling encouragement and instructions from the sidelines, it’s clear Hart loves doing his part for the youngsters of Pinellas, on or off the gridiron.
“Starting the Lake Maggiore Gators was one of the best things I ever did,” Hart enthused. “I have the support from my coaches, from the volunteers—it’s out there.”
For the home games the league asks for a donation of $3 per person (children under four get in free), but Hart said the organization would welcome support of any kind.
“If businesses or even residents of St. Pete would like to come out and show some type of support for the Lake Maggiore Gators, it would be appreciated,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be monetary. It can be buying Gatorade or water for the kids or just helping with the concession stand. It can just be volunteering an hour or two on our game days—anything to help out!”
Upcoming home games for the Lake Maggiore Gators at Gibbs High are Aug. 30, Sept. 13, Oct. 4 and Oct. 11.
Anthony Hart can be reached at (941) 536-6770 or firstname.lastname@example.org.