A group of local athletes will be mounting the big stage this week.
They are members of a team that is jetting to California to compete at a regional tournament this weekend. There, they will be pitted against top opposition from across 11 states, with a chance to advance to the national championship.
But here’s the kicker. The players? They’re only 9 years old.
The Marysville Pilchuck Tomahawk Red 89ers youth football team is spending the weekend in Santa Rosa playing in the Bay Area Regional of the Pro Football Hall of Fame National Youth Championship, giving the players the type of experience rare for those so young.
And the excitement level?
“It’s huge,” head coach Marlin Fryberg said. “For these kids, they’ll probably never have an opportunity like this again. So they’re excited and the whole community is excited. This is something the kids will never forget.”
Marysville is one of eight teams that will play in the League Team Division of the Bay Area Regional, an area that spans Washington, Oregon, northern California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and both North and South Dakota. The League Team Division features teams that remain intact from their league season, as opposed to the All-Star Division which allows teams comprised of the best players picked from multiple teams in an area. The winner of the regional advances to the National Youth Championship on Dec. 14-17 at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
The Bay Area Regional takes place Friday through Sunday at Santa Rosa Junior College and Windsor High School. The Tomahawks are scheduled to take on the Patterson (Calif.) Ravens in their first game Saturday at 9:30 a.m.
“It’s going to be awesome,” running back/defensive end Logan Fryberg said about going to California. “I’m a little nervous, though.”
Two months ago no one involved with the Tomahawks even knew the National Youth Championship existed. But after Marysville, a member of the Marysville Football League and the North Sound Junior Football League, finished its regular season 8-0 while outscoring its opponents 300-6, Marlin Fryberg was contacted by Gary Howard, who scouts for the event.
“He was in Walla Walla looking at I think a 14-under team, and he heard about our schedule of having not given up any touchdowns,” Marlin Fryberg said. “He asked if we were interested. I knew nothing about the tournament, so I did some research, talked it over with the parents, and we decided it would be a good thing to get the kids involved in.”
That gave the team about a month to raise money to cover expenses for the trip. Spearheaded by the players’ parents, the team set up a GoFundMe page, held raffles and auctioned off donated tickets to a Seattle Seahawks game. Those efforts helped defray the costs, meaning 21 of the team’s 23 players are making the trip to Santa Rosa.
“It’s really nice because my son’s been playing for four years and it’s the same team with almost all the same people, so it’s almost like family,” said Denise Norsworthy, who is traveling with her son Austin to Santa Rosa. “It’s really nice to be able to travel with what’s like your extra family.”
While the bulk of the team has been together for four years, it wasn’t always this dominating. Two years ago as Peewees the Tomahawks lost in the NSJFL championship game, then last year as an 8-year-old team Marysville lost in the first round of the playoffs.
But it all came together this year, up until a loss to Lake Stevens Black in the NSJFL championship game — Marlin Fryberg said the hype around being invited to regionals may have affected the team’s focus. The 89ers were invited to the regional after the regular season, so the loss didn’t affect their berth in the tourney.
“This year we all came together and really just worked as a team better than we did in other years,” tackle/nose tackle Tayden Olson said.
Said assistant coach Rich Smith, whose son Logan is on the team: “Not only do we have a core of kids that have been together three or four years, we have a team where several players touch the ball and make plays. We don’t have one super player who will just knock every player down and only one who touches the ball like some teams have. Football is a team sport and the Tomahawks are a full football team.”
The Tomahawks have no idea what to expect once they arrive in Santa Rosa, though when asked what what they were looking forward to most a flock of players answered in unison: “Winning it.”
But one thing the Tomahawks, as the first Marysville team and first NSJFL 89ers team ever to be invited to regionals, want to do is put northwest football on the map.
“There’s a lot of talent in the northwest,” Marlin Fryberg said. “Not just in Marysville, but all over. Hopefully what we do will have them keeping an eye out in this area in the future.”
If you have an idea for a community sports story, e-mail Nick Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.