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Youngsters share thrill of victory

It's a big world after all for Maurice Robinson, a 10-year-old East Side Buffalo boy who in December led his teammates to victory in the 2010 American Youth Football League Super Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

As if that wasn't heady enough for Maurice, he and 67 other Buffalo inner-city youngsters who took part in the national tournament all got to go to Disney World as a bonus.

Maurice, the quarterback for God's Children Cowboys, proudly noted that his team went 17-0 during the grueling, season and the weeklong national tournament.

"It was great, because we won all our games and we had fun out there," Maurice said.

Now Maurice's expanding world will get even bigger because the champs have been invited to play before the National Football League's Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, in August, when this year's class -- possibly including former Buffalo Bills great Andre Reed -- will be inducted.

Maurice and his teammates were feted Saturday night at an awards banquet in Creekside Banquet Facility, Cheektowaga.

It's heady stuff for kids from some of Buffalo's toughest streets. But that's the whole idea behind Sports PLUS (Partners in Learning and Urban Sports), said Junius Hodge, adding that the experience opened whole new vistas for all the boys who made the trip.

"What this did, it let them set their sights higher than they thought they could reach. No limits," said Hodge, president of the Buffalo Wolverines Junior Sports Organization, which is part of the Sports PLUS program sponsored by the Community Action Organization of Erie County.

The local program, in existence about a year, covers young athletes in various age divisions, combining football with academic and behavior requirements to create structure for kids, some of whom might not get it anywhere else.

Amazingly for such a new program, Buffalo sent teams from three divisions all the way to the finals in Orlando: God's Children Cowboys, ages 8 to 10; the Wolverines, ages 11 and 12; and the Buffalo Vets, 13 to 15.

The Cowboys and the Vets both won national titles against teams from around the country, while the Wolverines came in fourth.

"We played teams out of Rochester and Syracuse for the regional championships. Then, we went to New York City for the state championship, and then we went to Florida to play for the national championship." said Demeris Johnson, Sports PLUS executive director.

They almost didn't make it because they lacked the means to afford travel to the Sunshine State and lodging once they got there. A five-day fundraising drive -- with corporate partners who came through -- a week prior to the championship ensured that they would meet their goal.

"I was a little worried when we got there: Would we be rushed? How would our kids respond? But I think the hunger and the mental preparation that we put in during the season helped them prepare for the challenges," said Derrick Bishop, coach of the Cowboys.

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Have an idea for a person, organization or event that would make a good East Side Story? E-mail it to eastsidestory@buffnews.com, fax it to 856-5150 or call 849-6026.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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