The Southeast Valley Dragons, a Junior Pee Wee youth football team of kids from Tempe and Chandler will be representing the area this week at the American Youth Football National Championships in Orlando, Fla.
There will be eight teams representing the eight regions in the country.
The team of 8 to 11 year olds — mainly fifth and sixth graders from the Kyrene School District — won the seventeam Desert Mountain Region Championship of AYF. The Dragons posted an 8-0-1 record to capture the Central Arizona Youth Football Championship then went on to beat the Tucson Oro Valley Dolphins on Nov. 18, 32-12 to win the Desert Mountain Region crown.
“These kids have practiced and played hard since August,” according to proud parent Marty Clare.
The team, which is coached by Eddie Sitton left for Florida on Sunday. They began play in the round-robin tournament on Tuesday with hopes of making it to the championship game on Saturday.
“This team is a great group of young men to work with,” Sitton said. “They set Nationals as a goal back in August when practice began and they have worked hard to get where they are. They are smart, talented, and motivated. They are also very competitive, and they have learned to work well together as a team.”
Sitton, a 48-year-old financial consultant, has been coaching for 14 years.
“I have three sons and am now coaching my youngest son Beau on the Dragons,” he said. “We began the Dragons with my middle son Zach in 1999, and so this is our second group of young men to take through up to high school. Many of the original Dragons are now playing high school football at Corona de Sol, Marcos de Niza, Mountain Pointe, Basha and Hamilton.”
Other members of the team are: Nick Martinez, Graham Schmoker, Kyle Hise, Jimmy Switzer, Eric Probst, Johnny Campion, Josh Ethier, Cooper Gardner, Billy Clemens, Sean Crothers, Kort Turner, Jacob Lopez, Mike Clare, Emilio Martinez, Coleman Griffith, DeAndre Harris, Quinn Robertson, Elijah Nave and Jacob Zarate.
Sitton is assisted in his coaching duties by Pat Griffith, Justin Clare, Roy Clemens and Joe Fass while Angela Ethier serves as the team’s business manager.
“I have great assistant coaches and we have great, supportive parents on the Dragons,” Sitton said.
Another local team — the Chandler Red Raiders (9-0) — will also be participating in the championships in the junior midget division (10-13 year olds).
Chandler-based Desert Lights Gymnastics has several recent gold performances to boast of.
The Level 6 team led by Kayla McMullan of Gilbert (bars, floor, all-around) Jennifer Vezilj of Ahwatukee (vault), Lauren Varner-Timothy of Gilbert (beam), Victoria McWilliams (beam, floor) and Stephanie Poiani of Ahwatukee (floor) picked up the overall gold at the Compulsory State Gymnastics Championships Meet held Nov. 18-19 at Paradise Valley High School.
The Level 5 team captured third place at the same meet with seven individual golds (Courtney Loper — vault, bars, floor, all-around; Zoe Martin of Gilbert — beam; Mariana Murphy — beam; and Breanna Heiberger of Gilbert — beam, all-around), six silvers and one bronze.
Also competing with the Level 6 team and taking home medals were Baily Harris (second in vault, bars and allaround) and Chelsey Anderson (second in floor and allaround), both from Chandler, and Kelly Wolf of Mesa (second in floor). The gym is owned by Lisa Spina.
TERRIFIC TENNIS TWOSOME
Tempe resident and Corona del Sol High School freshman Kelsey Lawson, 14, advanced to the finals of the Girls 14 doubles in the USTA National Open in Costa Mesa, Calif., over the Thanksgiving weekend with partner Mackenzie Knoop of Albuquerque, N.M. The pair finished as runners up.
Lawton and Knoop were the No. 2 seeds and placed at the bottom of a draw of 32. “But few players from our section (the USTA Southwest Section which includes Arizona, New Mexico and part of Texas) have ever gotten to the finals of a national open so it was a pretty big accomplishment,” Tracy Lawton, Kelsey’s mother, said.
“They were playing in Southern California where most of the nation’s best tennis players come from so it was a tough draw. The girls had a determination I hadn’t seen in them before and played relaxed, aggressive doubles. They are 5’10” (Kelsey) and 5’9” (Mackenzie) and took advantage of their long reach and size advantage.”
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