But first, they need to raise about $18,500 by Dec. 1 to ensure all the kids can make it. Team officials have organized an online fundraiser, and will accept donations at two locations this weekend.
Neighbors can donate in-person Friday night at the teams’ practice at the Jackson Park football fields, 6099 S. Stony Island.
Team members will also collect money in buckets Saturday morning at 87th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway, beginning at 10:30 a.m.
The cheerleading team qualified for its fourth-ever trip to the American Youth Cheer national finals after taking second place in regionals, cheerleading director Tonya Radcliffe said.
The appearance comes after a third-place finish in the national championships last year.
After an undefeated season, the under-12 football team is making its first appearance in the American Youth Football national championships.
It’s the program’s third overall appearance, including its under-8, under-10 and under-14 teams, football director and Tonya’s husband Earnest Radcliffe said.
The football team still needs around $15,000 to ensure all of its players can participate in the week-long tournament, according to the Radcliffes.
That would pay for hotel stays, two van rentals and gear for the length of the football championships, which run from Dec. 6 through 14.
“We’ve got a couple of kids who we know their parents are struggling to get airline tickets,” Earnest Radcliffe said. “Right now they are on sale, so we’re trying to catch them to get the best sale price.”
The cheerleading team has been fundraising all year and its championships aren’t as lengthy, so the cheerleaders are in a little better shape, Tonya Radcliffe said. They still need about $3,500 to cover hotel and car rentals from Dec. 10 through 14.
The Radcliffes also hope to take the athletes on a trip to Universal Studios while in Florida, which contributes a little over $3,000 to the final total.
Beyond their teams’ success, the Radcliffes said they are proud of their athletes for their commitment to a positive program — in the face of sometimes messy home lives.
It’s a joy to see the football players’ growth through the year, said Earnest Radcliffe, who is also the longtime Morgan Park High School baseball coach.
He’s excited to see if his current players can follow in the footsteps of alumni like NFL free agent wide receiver Da’Ron Brown; former Michigan State University defensive end Demetrius Cooper; and the Radcliffes’ own son Kendall, a former minor league baseball outfielder.
Earnest Radcliffe loves “to see the growth of our student athletes; to see them come through our program and move on; to watch their faces and excitement while they’re playing in the game,” he said. “It’s part of a winning tradition.”
For Tonya Radcliffe, the cheer team also serves as a mentoring opportunity.
She is happy to provide a “safe haven” for South Side girls through the team, some of whom have had their first experiences dining out and staying in a hotel through the team.
A trip to Florida to compete at the highest level would further broaden the girls’ horizons, she said.
“Some of these kids haven’t even been off the block,” Tonya Radcliffe said. The team is a way to help them “feel loved, and I enjoy doing that.”
You can donate to the teams’ GoFundMe here.