Northeast Bandits champions on and off field

BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer

St. Petersburg – The Northeast Bandits scored the only game touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter to beat Pinellas Park for the 2016 JV Flyweight Championship at Calvary Christian High School.

“Due to the fact that we hadn’t been scored on all year, six points was more than enough for us,” said Head Coach Randell Lee Groen.

Seven-year-old tight end Owen Smith made the dash for the one and only touchdown of the game.

The Bandits ended their season with a perfect 13-0 record, and their defense shut out opponents in every single game.

When the season started, Groen wanted to establish and maintain a safe learning environment and to have fun; and while having fun, the team exceeded all expectations.

Offensive line coach and assistant athletic director Steve Smith has been with the Bandits for four years. Just a meager 25 years ago, he was a Flyweight on the same team. As a member of the board of directors, Smith has a bird’s eye view of not only what goes on game day, but also what goes on behind the scenes that contributed to the team’s success, especially for the 2016 season.

“What I enjoy the most is how much we give back to the community,” said Smith, pointing out that he is not alone in his efforts in working with the community to drum up support for kids wanting to be a part of the Bandits.

“What me and Randy have done is going out and getting sponsorship money to help pay for the families that can’t afford to pay for their kids to play. Not only do we sponsor the kids to play football, but it’s really a life sponsorship. And that’s one of the things we try to teach to all of our coaches.”

Smith emphasized the true depth and breath of what’s needed to help young people today be successful in all that they do.

“If you’re going to take the time to sponsor them, sponsor them on the field, sponsor them by making sure their grades are where they should be and they’re taking school seriously. Sponsor them their whole life!”

Smith continued by stating how former Bandit members that have moved up in the division still come over to his house for sleepovers with his older son. Smith’s unique approach to supporting community sports was expressed by several team parents who attended the end-of-season celebration cookout at Northeast High School’s Football Complex Sunday, Dec. 4.

“I noticed he’s definitely more disciplined, and he’s more focused,” said Lon Woods, the father of defensive tackle Isaiah Henry.

Bernetta Davis has three sons on the Bandits, but she talked about the newest arrival on the team, her son Daniel who’s an offensive and defensive lineman.

“They refer to him as D3 because he has two brothers already on the team,” said Davis, who mentioned that playing football has had an impact on Daniel’s academic performance.

“It helps them to be able to focus, and they have to be able to learn plays just like in school when you have to learn how to do your math assignments and other assignments,” she said.

Danielle Alexander said her son’s social and academic skills benefited as a result of his experience with the Bandits during the 2016 season.

“He likes to be called Champ now,” said Alexander about her son Demetrius Richardson, Jr.

She talked about his emotional and academic growth as a result of his experience with the Bandits.

“When they play group games in school, he’s become a better sport, not easily upset or angry; he just moves on and tries harder the next time. And that’s pretty much the same thing in academics as well.”

What’s a celebration without good food? The Bandits certainly couldn’t tell you because Leroy Ford and family catered the event providing barbeque chicken and ribs, hotdogs, hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, green salad, sweet potato pie and three assortments of cakes.

“It’s been nerve-racking, it’s been scary, but it’s been exciting and makes us stronger for next year—we’re ready to come back and do it again,” said Smith.

In summary, the Northeast Bandits players, coaches and parents pulled together to be champions on and off the field.

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