VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) — You might call the 14U Vista Panthers Pop Warner football team a Cinderella story. While they are now headed to the Pop Warner National Championships in Orlando, Florida, their season didn't get off to the best of starts.
"We had a brand new team, and a lot of these boys hadn't played any kind of team sport," says Head Coach Travis Coleman. "Also a year of inactivity certainly didn't help, so we lost our first five games."
The season would change after that, after losing five straight to open the season, they haven't lost since. Coach Coleman says his boys stuck to it, worked hard, and showed great perseverance.
"They didn't get discouraged. It's easy to go in a hole when you lose, and for some kids, they can do that when losing even one game."
All the hard work and believing in themselves has paid off. The Panthers fought the long odds, and have qualified for the National Championships, otherwise known as the Super Bowl of Pop Warner football.
"It's hard to put words on it, but you should have seen them when we won just the first game. It's been a roller coaster since then, just better, and better, and better. We were the last seed in the playoffs. You've never seen a group of kids more excited and deserving than the group we got."
Now getting the players to Florida isn't cheap, so everyone with the team has been working hard on fundraising.
"It's a middle-class community. We were notified Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we'll fly out Thursday. We need to get 20 kids to Orlando, so it's an all-hands-on-deck type effort."
It's a great effort by the Vista Panthers, and they will not be going alone, as the Panther JV cheerleaders have qualified to go to Orlando as well.