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Bayside Raiders scrimmage displays kids’ gridiron talent

Pint-sized football players from the Bayside Raiders Youth Football League, including Tai "Karate Kid" Gavantes (front), 7, warm up for their scrimmage against the Rosedale Jets during the Raiders' opening day on Sunday. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Howard Koplowitz

The Bayside Raiders football squad kicked off their annual Raider Day Sunday at a Flushing field, where they scrimmaged each other in preparation for the start of the season next month.

The Raiders consist of five divisions: Peanuts (6- and 7-year-olds), Junior Pee Wees (8- to 10-year-olds), Pee Wee (11- and 12-year-olds), Midgets (13- and 14-year-olds) and Intermediate (15- and 16-year-olds). They participate in the New York City Youth Football League, which fields teams in all five boroughs.

The older members are usually high school students whose schools do not have a football program, according to Donald LaSala, the Bayside Raiders' executive director. They eventually move on to varsity football programs at other schools.

Most players are starting out in their first year, he said.

Each Raiders division scrimmaged between their own teams Sunday as parents sat in the stands cheering their children on.

North Flushing resident Franklin Watkins, a former cornerback at August Martin High School, was one of those parents.

His son, Justin, is starting his first year in the Pee Wee division, also playing cornerback.

“Hopefully, he'll be hitting somebody today,” said Watkins.

He was dressed in a Raider hat and T-shirt and clutching silver and gray pom-poms belonging to his daughter, a team cheerleader.

“I'm bringing it out and everything,” Watkins said. “Raider Day!”

Brian Contino and Chukwuma Udezeh, both Pee Wees, have been in the program for four and five years, respectively.

“I want to learn about football,” said Contino, 12, from Astoria, who plays both linebacker and running back on his team.

“In linebacker, you can make most of the plays and with running back you can score touchdowns,” he said.

Udezeh, 11, from Rosedale, plays the same positions and echoed his teammate about why he enjoys them.

The children also heard from City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who helps fund the team, during Raider Day.

“You can see, it really is a fantastic football program,” Avella said shortly before he delivered remarks to the Raiders. “They have a wonderful organization that puts this together. I'm happy to fund the program.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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