Raiders football program mushrooms
Raiders football program mushrooms
PAWTUCKET - Not only has the Oakwood Raiders Pop Warner football program grown in numbers over the past three years but so has its success.
With one game remaining in the regular season, the Raiders hope to have at least three teams in the playoffs. The top team is the Unlimited team, which is undefeated with a perfect 8-0 record. They have already secured the number one seed.
Before their last game, the Unlimited Raiders had not allowed a point all season.
"We now have had two points scored on us all year, a safety last week," unlimited coach and Oakwood program president, John Tavares said. "We defeated Dartmouth 46-2."
Tavares is the head coach of the unlimited team and is joined by Frank Azevedo and volunteer Dan Ashworth. He said that Ashworth is a police officer who volunteered his time.
Since the inception of the Oakwood Raiders three years ago, the program is starting to see growth from the bottom. Tavares said he has five players on his team that have moved up through the ranks while everyone else is new.
"These kids have the opportunity to advance to Regionals and their play at the Regionals could get them to Disney for the Nationals," Tavares said.
Rewind back to 2011, the Raiders had about 71 participants and were able to field two tackle teams and two cheerleading teams. The program continued to grow in 2012 as they had 162 participants fielding four tackle teams, a flag team and three cheer teams.
This year they are at 236 participants and 10 total teams. The Raiders have five tackle teams, one flag and four cheer teams. The ages range from 5-15 and they have about 25 players on each team.
"We have grown exponentially since having a void here for over 17 years," Tavares said. "This is a very diverse group, with every representation of ethnic groups from Caucasian, Hispanic, Cape Verdean, Lebanese, Portuguese, and others. It makes us strong."
The Raiders practice at Morley Field which had been pretty much deserted before 2011. Tavares is appreciative of the city of Pawtucket and the Parks and Recreation Department. He said that through the new parks and recreation director, John Blais, they have slowly renovated the field.
The grass is cut on a regular basis, they have installed lights, the field is cleaner in general and they have working bathrooms. They play their home games at Max Read Field.
"The organization is still new but having a lot of success," Tavares said. "It's their (the players) time to shine. In our first year our midget team went to the Super Bowl headed by me and Frank Azevedo."
Last year the Raiders had two standout teams, the Midget and Junior Midgets. The Midgets went undefeated, 8-0, and were the conference champions, Tavares said. The Junior Midgets were Super Bowl finalists.
"Myself and (Vice President) John Santos continue to look to grow the organization," Tavares said. "We eventually want to make it into an athletic association. We want to add basketball next year and eventually want to bring Little League baseball to make it a multi-sport organization."
The Raiders are also active in the community, Tavares said. They volunteer at the Woodlawn Community Center as well as holding activities at the center.
The other football programs in Pawtucket play in the Blackstone Valley American Youth Football League and their teams are made up of grade-level, not weight. In Oakwood, they still go by weight class.
"We are still playing out of Ocean State Pop Warner football and have had a lot of success," Tavares said. "There are nine teams in this program."
The Raiders cheerleading program has also grown and the cheerleaders compete at Rhode Island College.
Tavares is confident that his team will make it to Regionals without a problem. But once there their biggest competition will be between Worcester and Boston. He also wants to see the best out of every Raiders team.
"Certainly I want as many teams to advance into the postseason," Tavares said. "We are looking to get more attention toward the program to get bigger and increase our numbers."
Tavares added that if the Unlimited team does make it through Regionals they will need donations for their trip to Florida for the Nationals. Anyone interested in helping should contact the league at firstname.lastname@example.org .