In its very first year, the Saugerties Outlaws youth tackle football 12U team is heading to Gatlinburg, Tennessee later this month to compete in the Battle in Rocky Top national tournament. According to the team’s head coach, George MacDonald, this is the first time a team from north of Maryland has been invited to the competition. The Outlaws will join over 300 other teams for the 12U and 10U tournament at Rocky Top Sports World from November 22 to 24.
The Outlaws consist of local kids pre-teens including captains Boston MacDonald (QB), Griffin DeCicco (LB), Ezra Cafaldo (RB) and lineman Nicco Candullo. MacDonald was the team’s leading rusher during the regular season, amassing 1233 yards and nine touchdowns. DeCicco led the defense with 84 tackles, while John Hernandez (five touchdowns) and interior lineman Christian Bolde had solid seasons.
In its inaugural season, the Outlaws played in the eight-team Hudson Valley Youth Football Association, which includes teams from Rondout Valley, Liberty, Red Hook, Ellenville, Liberty and Fallsburg. The regular season began in early September, ending for the Saugerties senior team with a playoff loss. The season has been extended by the invitation to Rocky Top.
“It’s a pretty big deal for the boys,” said MacDonald. “These kids are so excited. It’s hard to get kids to come to a can shake or something like that, but we have a spaghetti dinner this Friday and every kid raised their hand that they wanted to come be a waiter at it. And we had can shakes over the weekend going from place to place.”
The kids “pretty much realized it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” the coach added. “Our high school doesn’t go this far, you know? No other football team goes too far from around here. The kids love it. They’re pumped.”
Fundraising for the tournament included the aforementioned can shakes and spaghetti dinner, along with assistance from local businesses, parents, and Ulster County sheriff Juan Figueroa, who MacDonald said has been an ardent supporter of the Outlaws. The team will begin its 13-hour drive to Gatlinburg at midnight on Wednesday, November 20, arriving with enough time for the team to get acclimated and prepared for their first game.
“There are teams from across the country looking to win a national championship, where locally it’s more of a rec league,” said MacDonald. “This is a little bit more serious, obviously.”
MacDonald said youth football teaches kids about more than just the gridiron game. “It’s a great team-builder, it’s great responsibility builder,” MacDonald said. “There’s a lot of everyday life things that we teach them as part of football. It’s not just football accountability: It’s respect, responsibility for your actions, those types of things, you know, respect … uh, responsibility, responsibility for your actions, you know, those types of things.”
With local kids able to play organized football from a younger age, the quality of play at the modified, JV and varsity levels at Saugerties High should also increase.
As for the Battle in Rocky Top, the kids on the team will likely remember the experience for the rest of their lives regardless of where the Outlaws fall in the final standings. “The travel, the camaraderie together, it’s one of those things in life you’ll look back and you just, that’s something you did together,” MacDonald said. “No matter what. That’s a bond. Everywhere they go, they’re going in vans; our transportation is together, hotels together. It kind of teaches them to be away from their parents as a team.”
MacDonald said the local community has been unwavering in its support of the Outlaws since the very beginning. “We really couldn’t do it without their support,” he said. “The community has been behind us from day one. This is a very rare, rare opportunity for a group of kids. And the more support they have, the better.”