By Nicole Bode
DNAinfo Associate Editor
BATTERY PARK CITY — The Giants are playing for a national championship. No, not Big Blue — it's the Downtown Giants, Manhattan's only public league youth football team.
This weekend, the 18 teenagers on the Giants team will head to Orlando, Fla., to compete in the playoffs of the American Youth Football League. A 7-2 record earned them a wild card spot in the postseason.
The playoffs run from Dec. 5 to Dec. 12.
"We’re going to win the national championship. I can’t wait to bring that back to Manhattan," said Lucas Ortega, 15, a starting linebacker from Battery Park City.
"We’ve only had four years in this organization and already we’re going to Florida for the National Championships. Downtown Manhattan: Nobody would ever think of that."
From its humble origins four years ago, Manhattan’s only public league for youth football has risen to a nationally-recognized team, besting bigger, more experienced teams from around the city and upstate.
Just like the borough they play for, the Giants are a melting pot. Some players' families are on public assistance. Other players attend private school. Still others travel over an hour each way to get to practice.
“We’re just so happy for the boys to have a chance to do this. They couldn’t believe it. They’re so excited,” said coach Julian Swearengin
“We’ve been trying to impress upon them what a once-in-a-lifetime chance this is.”
The league was started in 2006 by Brian Griffin to combat the lack of football teams in Manhattan for boys under age 16. Since then, the Giants program has grown to eight teams, with more than 200 players on various age levels, and a pair of chearleading squads, Swearengin said.
With a waiting list of more than 100 boys ages 6 — 16, the Giants could have expanded even more if it weren’t for the biggest scourge to Manhattan youth sports: practice space.
"Field space is one of our biggest limits to growth," Swearengin said. "One day we practice at Pier 40, the next day at the Battery Park ballfields, and Saturday games are at the East River Park. We basically have the scraps of what was left of the permits at the park."
But the limitations of Manhattan’s green space is made up for by the generosity of its residents, Swearengin said.
The Downtown Giants’ trip to Florida — which cost about $800 per player — was almost completely subsidized by donations from the community, he said.
That’s on top of the normal $200 scholarship each player gets every year to offset the $600 per-season league fees.
“To think that people would donate money so that they could go to Florida — they can’t wrap their minds around the kindness of strangers,” Swearengin said.
During their last practice in Manhattan Thursday night, Swearengin revved the team up with a pep talk.
"Are you guys excited to show teams how good you are?" Swearengin asked, "By the end of the week, I want people to be like, 'did you see the Giants?'"
"We got an extra seat on the way home," he added. "The name is listed as 'trophy.'"