LAWRENCE – Chris Morales sent out thank-you notes about 15 months ago.
They went to local businesses and people who stepped up when told Lawrence Pop Warner was on the brink of extinction – out of money, out of equipment with declining participation — to the tune of $15,000.
The program was saved. Overdue bills were paid. Kids who couldn't afford to play got "scholarships."
There are new pants, new and refurbished helmets, and new cheerleading uniforms.
There's an even better way of extending thanks, as the old saying goes, showing instead of telling. And that's what Morales and the Lawrence Pop Warner are doing.
Today the Lawrence 10U team plays Pomperaug, Conn., at the Manning Bowl in Lynn (noon) for the New England Regional title.
The winner goes to ... get this ... the Pop Warner National Championships in Orlando next weekend.
How’s that for a "thank you very much?"
“We would not be here in this position without the people who stepped up for us,” said Morales, athletic director for Lawrence Pop Warner. Morales is a former player himself who took his talents to Central Catholic and the University of Delaware before coming home to the Merrimack Valley.
“It not only showed people care, which really helps morale, it allowed us to reach our potential,” he said. “Our 10U isn’t just good, it’s very good. We can not only compete with anybody, we feel we can beat anybody.”
The 10U isn't the only successful team in the Lawrence program.
The 6U and 8U teams were both finalists in the Bubba Bowls in Billerica recently, competing in divisions with 10 or more teams.
The cheerleaders, who are a big part of Pop Warner, are another success story.
The Lawrence 12U cheerleaders finished second in their conference, first at the Eastern Mass competition in Lowell and fourth at the Pop Warner regionals.
“That’s a big deal for us, too,” said Morales. "We have a cheerleading head coach (Rayna Hawkinson), assistant coach (Amy Hendrick), a cheer director (Leida Feliciano) and a team mom (Melissa Castro). They bring a lot of energy to our program. Our cheerleaders match up with any program we face."
While winning titles is what every team strives for, what’s even better, says Morales, is the excitement when the season is over.
“Everyone, including players, coaches, cheerleaders and parents, are already talking about next year,” he said. “They’re excited about off-season programs, drills and camps. In the past we’ve been clamoring to try and keep the people we have. This is different.”
So is the 10U team.
Not only are they state champs after a convincing 34-0 win over Brockton but for the last three years their record is a combined 35-2-1.
Coach Ryan Mustapha is front and center.
"We're very lucky to have Ryan," said Morales. "He's great with the kids, a very good teacher. He pushes them to the limit. You can't do this without coaches like Ryan."
Morales said he always knew the city had the talent to play football. Lawrence just needed equal footing with the surrounding communities.
"This represents what the boys can do as individuals," he said. "With the help we got (in August 2018) we are showing everybody that there is very good football and potential in our city. But we couldn't have done this without the support of the community. We appreciate it so much and want to thank everybody."
Appreciation and thanks are always welcome.
But the Lawrence Pop Warner program didn't just tell us it would thrive.
It showed us.
Bill Burt is executive sports editor of The Eagle-Tribune. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @BurtTalksSports
Lawrence Pop Warner 10U Results (2019)
Lawrence 28, Wilmington 0
Lawrence 27, Lowell 0
Lawrence 22, Billerica 6
Lawrence 32, Westford/Acton 0
Lawrence 22, Chelmsford 0
Lawrence 32, Methuen 0
Lawrence 26, Dracut 0
Revere 19, Lawrence 6
Lawrence 32, Billerica 6
Lawrence 32, Chelmsford 6
Eastern Mass Championship
Lawrence 6, Revere 0
Lawrence 34, Brockton 0
Lawrence Pop Warner 10U Captains (2019)
#10 Amette Mustapha
#2 Chris Vargas
#4 Chase Mustapha
#32 Nathaniel Urena
#87 Nate Pirchardo
#5 Jazavier Vasquez
Support from McCourty brothers
New England Patriots brothers Devin and Jason McCourty apparently got wind of the Lawrence U10 Pop Warner team's recent run and its need for funds, whether to play in next weekend's national championships in Orlando, Florida, or to cover operating expenses.
So, the McCourtys donated $5,000 apiece.
"I was going back and forth with them on Twitter, and they offered to help," said Lawrence 10U coach Ryan Mustapha. "I was in shock. They each contacted me, individually, and wished us luck this weekend (in Lynn).
"They loved our story, that we're an (urban) team in a struggling city," said Mustapha. "This really, really helps us going forward."
If Lawrence wins Saturday, the team will need roughly $30,000 to cover expenses for players and some families to go to Orlando.
The McCourtys' $10,000 contributions gets them well on their way.
Lawrence 10U to Disney?
The Lawrence 10U Pop Warner team is one win away from playing in the Pop Warner National Championships in Orlando, Florida. To get there, it plays Pomperaug, Conn., at the Manning Bowl in Lynn at noon today for the New England championship.
Lawrence head coach Ryan Mustapha says the team is special because they all play a role.
"From the smallest to the heaviest, youngest to oldest, they all own their position and execute," he said. "This team is like a family. Most of them have been playing football together for four years. That's important. They go into each game ready to have each other's back. The best is yet to come with this group."