Pensacola NEP Wildcats get first class charter bus for trip to Canton, Ohio and World Youth Football Chamoi
Bill Vilona, [email protected]
Christmas came early for two Northeast Pensacola Wildcat football teams.
It arrived Tuesday night in the form of an ultra-modern, charter bus that transported the players and some of their parents to Canton, Ohio for this weekend’s World Youth Football Championships.
Not just any bus, mind you.
This one sparkling new, painted in Florida State Seminoles’ garnet and gold, and soon to be used by FSU athletic teams. It had satellite television screens, Wi-Fi, cup holders and other comforts to ease a 950 mile trip.
“If you are going to ride 14-15 hours this is way to do it,” said Pensacola NEP president Kevin Sluder, after helping load the bus at the Cordova Mall parking area in front of Dick’s Sporting Goods.
“These kids are obviously very excited. This will be an experience they will remember the rest of their lives,” he said.
The bus from Astro Travel in Tallahassee was part of the fund-raising effort the organization and players’ parents arranged for the trip.
The Pensacola NEP 9-under team plays Thursday against the Louisiana Knights in a first-round game on fields adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 11-under team plays Thursday against the Decatur (Illinois) Bears. The games can be followed on the World Youth Football Championship Facebook page as well as CBS Sports Network live stream. The teams have to keep winning to advance to Sunday’s age division championships.
There were 54 players-famlies-coaches on the bus. Sluder said some of the kids had never traveled out of Pensacoila. Others were traveling on their own and meeting the team in Canton.
The teams are getting a weather break. The forecast for Canton, located about 90 minutes from Cleveland, had temperatures in the low 40’s Friday through Sunday, which wasn’t much different than Tuesday night’s temperature in Pensacola.
Part of the experience will be visiting the Hall of Fame where Pensacola natives and former prep stars Emmitt Smith and Derrick Brooks are enshrined. The exhibits also include a separate wing of the Hall of Fame devoted to the Super Bowl, where so many other Pensacola-area players have competed.
One of those players, two-time Super Bowl winner Domenik Hixon, who has adopted Pensacola as his home after his playing career, spoke to the NEP teams Monday night. The players will get to see his name on an exhibit as part of the two New York Giants Super Bowl championship teams he played on.
“(Hixon) is outstanding,” Studer said. “He has been kind of a good luck charm for us. Four years ago, before our 6-year old (regional) championship, he spoke to the kids when some of these current players were 5-6 (years old) and we won a championship.
“So hopefully, now, he will help get us the big one.”
The charter bus stopped early Wednesday morning to change drivers in Kentucky, as well as other stops for rest room and food breaks. In all, it was expected to take between 14-16 hours after leaving shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Sluder, a former defensive tackle, who played at Escambia High and then at Mississippi State, was flying Wednesday with his family.
“I’ve never been to the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame so I am just as excited as the kids,” he said. “My son, Corbin, is 10 and he’s going so it’s going to be a great memory.”
Bill Vilona can be reached at [email protected] and 850-435-8532