Michael Ott was hoping to raise $30,000 to send his Pop Warner football team to the national championships in Orlando, Florida, next week.
As of Thursday afternoon, his GoFundMe account was showing a balance in excess of $90,000.
“It’s unreal … really unbelievable!” said Ott, who coaches the East Bay Warriors, a team of boys 10 and under. “We were not at all expecting this. We’re all blown away.
“Some of the parents were in tears when they saw it this morning. These aren’t folks who get a lot of big-time support.”
The Oakland-based team needed $30,000 to send all 30 kids on the 10-day trip to play against the best teams in the country at the Universal Studios complex. As of Monday, the GoFundMe account stood at $18,000. Without help, some of the boys would be left behind at home.
That all changed on Wednesday after a story from this news organization detailed the Warriors’ plight. The outpouring of support from more than 500 people included a significant donation from a charity run by former Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame coach John Madden and his sons. Their donation was accompanied by a note: “Oakland and Football! Still a winning combination! Go get ‘em!”
With the donations, the team will be able to cover all costs for each family, including food and spending money, on their trip beginning Dec. 2. The team also plans to rent buses while in Orlando and take the boys to Disney World as a treat for their undefeated season so far.
“No family is paying anything on this trip,’’ said Ott, who has spent more than a decade coaching young football players in West Oakland.
Ott said the balance of funds will be applied to registration fees next season for the players. In addition, after years of having to hand out old equipment to players, Ott anticipates being able to provide the kids with new helmets and shoulder pads.
The Warriors’ financial struggles resonated with one man who said he played Pop Warner football for the Oakland Junior Raiders from 1970-73. The man, who now owns his own renovation and construction company in Moraga, said his experiences playing youth football changed his life. And he wanted to help make sure the Warriors had that same opportunity.
Ott and the Warriors, who have been dealing with a sub-standard home football field at Raimondi Park in West Oakland, also got a huge helping hand from Laney College and its head football coach, John Beam on Wednesday.
Beam, who has had many East Bay Warriors alumni on his nationally known Laney teams over the years, has arranged for Ott’s team to practice at Laney College next week.
The Warriors have not been able to practice as much as they’d like after they earned a berth in the nationals on Nov. 7 by winning the Pacific Northwest Regional Championship. Because Raimondi Park’s lights have only worked sparingly this year, the Warriors’ hopes of practicing for more than an hour on their home field ended when Daylight Savings ended. The only practices they’ve had under the lights were a few at Castlemont High as well as some on a patch of grass at Jefferson Square Park.
The more Ott spoke about the generosity from so many people in the community, the more amazed he seemed to be.
“The money is great, but it’s 500 different people helping us that really gets me. It takes your breath away, the way the community has responded,” Ott said. “All the messages we’re getting from people, talking about how important sports is and how it saved their lives .. it’s amazing.
“This is all because people in our community have connected with what we’re going through and it’s so amazing.”
For those interested in contributing to the East Bay Warriors’ efforts to travel to Orlando, Fl for the Pop Warner nationals.