You probably have seen the movies before. It’s Hollywood’s favorite cinematic equation.
Fictional or nonfictional, a story is told about a boxer (Rocky), a baseball team (Major League), football team (Remember the Titans), etc., etc., that was unsuccessful, and then through a miraculous effort comes out on top. It seems like no matter how it’s wrapped up, packaged, and even done previously, these movies speak to something in each of us. Many of us find ourselves glued to the screen to watch the story play out again and again. But over the past two years, for the Lake Nona Junior Lions 12-U Football Team, this story was real life.
In 2014, the Junior Lions lost a total of eight games – which meant every one they played. In the offseason, determined to improve, many of the Junior Lions worked hard, conditioning and practicing on their own. However, they lost the first game in the following year. Unwavering to not become the same team from the previous year, the team kept working hard.
Coach Jade Gummer said, “It’s like every good football movie or baseball movie you’ve ever seen where the kids just buy in. We had a great coaching staff and a great group of parents. We didn’t win our first game. You start out, do all that, and think ‘we’re the same old team we were last year,’ but the kids just kept plugging away and buying into the system.”
The Junior Lions ended up with seven wins and four losses for the regular season. Their efforts resulted in an opportunity to participate in the playoffs for the state championship, something this group of kids had never experienced. In the first game, they won against a team from West Volusia County. However, in the second game, they lost to the four-time national champs, the Apopka Raptors. And even though the Junior Lions suffered a difficult loss in the state playoffs, the one win against West Volusia allowed them to qualify to participate in the playoff tournament for the National AAU Title. “No one really had great expectations for us, but it was really just one of those ‘we believe’ scenarios,” said Coach Gummer.
In the first game of the national playoffs, Lake Nona beat the previous national champions from Pensacola on the last play of the game. After that exciting win, the Junior Lions went on to play the South Carolina AAU State Champions, who were undefeated. The Lions came away with another victory, and with that came confidence. “Then, the kids started feeling themselves a little bit. They started to believe, and not just that they could compete but that they belonged, that they were supposed to be there,” Coach Gummer said.
Now in the third round, armed with poise, Lake Nona took on a team from Virginia called the Central Virginia Elite. Each team they faced thus far in the National Playoffs had a unique identity that made them a formidable opponent. This Virginia team was no different as their head coach was long-time football star Michael Vick. Regardless of the other team’s high profile coach, the Junior Lions disposed of the Central Virginia Elite in a 13-12 victory.
Unfortunately, the Lake Nona Junior Lions faltered in the quarterfinals to a different Virginia team, which ended up finishing off their memorable season. “They were just highly productive, playing against that same talent they had played the year before. The same group of kids just had a different resolve and different leadership,” Gummer said. “The best part for me as a coach was just seeing the kids come into their own. Seeing the kids who bought into the system and because they bought into the system, there was enough success to pass around for everybody. We had 13 different kids who scored touchdowns, which on a youth team is unprecedented.”
The Lake Nona Junior Lions is not just a football team or series of football teams. They are a nonprofit organization focused on developing youth athletes in the Nonahood. In addition to football, the Junior Lions have cheerleading, basketball, wrestling, and lacrosse. For more information about all the Lake Nona Junior Lions, visit www.lakenonajrlions.com.