WOODLAWN — A youth football team and cheer squad from the South Side will now head to the national championship in Florida after people across the country kicked in more than $20,000 to fund their travel.
As of Friday, the Southside Wolfpack’s fundraiser to get the teams to the Orlando area had only raised a few thousand dollars of the $18,500 needed to fund the trip.
But thanks to some generous donors and extensive media coverage — the cheer and football teams will not only have their trips paid for in full, but they’re adding in a trip to Busch Gardens while they’re in Florida for the week, team officials said.
On Friday, cheer director Tonya Radcliffe estimated the program would need about $18,500 to send its teams to the Orlando-area American Youth Football and Cheer national championships.
The funds raised will ensure every kid’s hotel stay, airline ticket, food and ground transportation is paid for, Radcliffe said.
She still has to coordinate with GoFundMe to make sure she can withdraw the money before a $9,000 hotel bill is due Dec. 1, and a few more parents still need to confirm that their children can go.
But while Radcliffe is working to tie up loose ends, she’s also taking time to celebrate with kids and parents on the team.
Knowing that the teams have reached their goal “is amazing — I know how important this is,” Radcliffe said. “It’s truly a blessing. I don’t know how we can thank everybody when they come back.”
With the extra cash, the football team will get new equipment like mouthpieces, chinstraps, cleats and socks. Team officials will also use funds to help pay for their coaches’ trips, as they are volunteers who had planned to pay their own way.
A previously-scheduled trip to Universal Studios is a go, and Busch Gardens has also been added to the itinerary. Radcliffe said the trip will thrill the kids, many of whom rarely leave their own neighborhood.
“I think they’re more excited to get on a plane than anything,” she said. The trip “could change some of their lives.”
The teams will also land in Florida with style, wearing new sweatsuits funded by donors, according to football director and Tonya’s husband Earnest Radcliffe.
Earnest Radcliffe woke up Monday feeling “tremendous,” he said. He spent the weekend fielding calls from donors and new friends of the program.
People from as far as downstate Illinois found his number online to wish the teams good luck, he said.
“I don’t even have the words for it. The children and parents are so excited,” Earnest Radcliffe said. “I wish we could do something really special for everybody who made a contribution to give our young people the chance of a lifetime.”
Tonya Radcliffe invited “everybody that helped us reach our goal” to the teams’ annual banquet, to be held Dec. 22 at the Martinique Banquet Complex, 8200 S. Cicero Ave. in Burbank.
“We just want to say thank you,” Tonya said. “You have no idea how important this is.”
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