By Jon Schuppe
HARLEM — The Harlem Jets junior midgets football team is one win away from an American Youth Football title.
Just a week after struggling to find the money to make it to the national tournament in Florida, the Jets' 12-and-under team finds itself in the championship game after a 24-6 win Tuesday over Chicago’s High Ridge Chargers.
They'll take on the Novato, Calif., Yellow Jackets Thursday at 1 p.m.
Unlike their counterparts in the NFL, the junior midgets are undefeated this season and are out to avenge their disappointing showing in the 2009 tournament, in which they came in fifth place in the 11-and-under pee-wee division.
"This is all we’ve been talking about since last year: trying to get back down here," coach Tyson Pratcher said by phone from Orlando.
Many of his players have learned football and grown up together since first joining the Harlem Jets organization in 2007.
"These guys are like a family," Pratcher, 35, said. "They spend so much time together, they say things to each other that only family members should say to each other."
Tuesday ended with heartbreak for the other Harlem Jets squad at the tournament, the 9-and-under mighty mites, who were eliminated by Oakland’s Emeryville Ravens.
The younger Harlem team is now looking to the junior midgets for motivation for next year, mighty mites coach, Stefan Romero, said.
"It took them three years to get where they’re at," Romero, 34, said. "I told my team, the key is working really hard, and they understand that."
Some Harlem Jets almost didn’t make it to Orlando.
Each of the 46 players and 10 coaches on the two teams had to come up with $500 to cover the trip. But several players were already on scholarship, and couldn’t afford the fee. So members of the Jets organization walked the streets for donations, solicited contributions online, and dipped into the non-profit group’s operational budget to make sure the teams arrived intact.
Now the mighty mites will try to enjoy their rest of the week, including a visit to Universal Studios.
And the junior midgets are gearing up for the title game.
"If the game were today, we’d be ready," Pratcher said Wednesday morning. "Everyone’s really excited. You rarely get a second chance to do something."