MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — They've already paid their way into a national championship, but their biggest hurdle might be paying to actually get there.
The Beach Stampede of the Beach Youth Football League, comprised of 25 kids from Fruitport, Mona Shores and Reeths Puffer, began on a whim last August and coaches said they've been exceeding expectations ever since.
Gary Brink, one of the six coaches who've been working with the boys ranging in ages from 9 to 11 years old, said the team began as a sort of experiment. Brink said they were just curious to find out how their boys compared to other teams across the state.
"This is a really, really unique, special group of kids," he said. "Last year I kind of wanted to do this and I thought I better do it before it's too late and these kids start playing school ball; to give them the opportunity to go out and see what they can do."
Even as the kids went head-to-head against teams and players who'd gone through tryouts and recruits in the Run4Belts-N-Rings championship series, the Beach Youth Football team outperformed.
"We didn't try out, we just said 'hey, do you want to play football,'" Brink said. "To go out that first weekend in Grand Rapids, and we ended up winning that tournament. Then following that, we went and played a tournament in Kalamazoo ... we ended up beating them twice to take the championship in Kalamazoo."
Those two championship wins led the the team to Ann Arbor where they'd nab a championship there too, making it three for one season. Brink said it's the first time any team in any age group has ever done that in the history of the tournament in the state.
And people started noticing.
"These teams that we faced were good football teams, and their coaches and parents not only approached our parents but our coaches and our kids asking 'where are you guys from," Brink said. "And we're like, look: we're a rec club that kind of put this together to see what these kids can do."
It's a point of pride for the kids on the team too.
"It's great, everybody plays hard, and that's what I like," said Landon Taylor, one of the players. "We've just got to keep on working hard and working for it."
Their undefeated status in the state, with a record 222 points scored while allowing just 21 points, means the team is now headed to compete in the national championships in Dallas this Christmas.
But the success comes at a cost. Brink says the team will need to pay for charter buses, hotel rooms. There's also a $500 fee to enter the tournament. The coaches and kids are now turning the community for the extra push to make it happen.
"The plan right now until then is we're doing a lot of fundraising trying to raise money because obviously it's going to be very expensive," he said.
"You know, we don't come from a wealthy area. A lot of our families don't have the money to get down there, or to even get their kids down there, so we're trying to relieve some of that."
Brink said the cost of the entire trip is estimated to be between $25,000 and $35,000. One charter bus can run as much as $10,000, according to Brink. The team has set up a GoFundMe page to raise donations.
"It gets me choked up, I'm so proud of these kids," Brink said.
"It's been exciting, it's been rewarding, I mean I feel like, it's been an honor to coach this group of kids."
The team hopes to leave for Texas on Dec. 26. A pasta dinner fundraiser is also scheduled for Dec. 19 at Whitlow's on Airline Road in Muskegon from 5-8 p.m.