Originally posted on www.fayobserver.com by Chick Jacobs
SPRING LAKE - Part of Edwin Buie wants to smile.
But the other part - the coaching part - won't allow it.
He's watching the 5- and 6-year-old Spring Lake Eagles practice their offensive plays. Though, at this age, "offensive play" means sort of lining up and hoping everyone moves in the same general direction.
The only problem: A combination of small hands and chilly temperatures means the cold football is spending more time on the ground than in the quarterback's somewhat undersized hands. As his assistants patiently line the kids up for another try, the coaching side of Buie gives way once again to the smile.
"I love this, just love this," he said over the raucous sounds and whistles of practice. "To the kids, it's fun, even in the cold.
"But the lessons they're learning will last long after they leave the field."
Like all the volunteers coaching in the near-freezing evening at Mendoza Park, Edwin Buie loves football. Like many of them, he played the game in high school.
Unlike many of them, however, the 40-year-old Philadelphia transplant didn't have a dad to show him the ropes. His father died before Edwin was old enough to play pee-wee football.
And that, Edwin says, is the main reason he balances his night job as a 1st Theater Sustainment Command staff sergeant at Fort Bragg with providing a chance for more than 100 kids in the Cape Fear region to play. He became founder and president of HQ Headquarters for Youth, the group that sponsors the Eagles.
"A lot of these kids don't have a dad around," Buie said. "Maybe they're deployed. Maybe they're gone. The moms do a wonderful job, but every boy needs to have that male presence in his life.
"All of us want to give them that opportunity."
Thus far this season, the Eagles are making the most of that opportunity. Of the five Amateur Athletic Union-affiliated teams, only one didn't reach the state championships that will be played Sunday in Greensboro.
In all, the Eagles have three national trophies. Last season, two teams, the 12-under and 10-under Eagles, advanced to the AAU national tournament in Orlando, Fla., next month.
In region play last weekend, the teams won by scores ranging from 6-0 to 65-2. Even the 6-under team - the ones having trouble keeping the ball off the turf in practice - won its contest 26-19.
"Our goal is to get all the teams to the nationals in Orlando," Buie said. "We may not reach that goal, but that's what we aim for."
It's a lofty goal, one that seemed little more than a dream when Buie began. The teams had no organized schedule, not even a lighted practice field.
"When it got dark, we'd practice by having parents pull their cars around the field and turning their lights on," he said. "Since then, we've gotten amazing support from the community here in Spring Lake. Ken Metcalf, the town manager, Alderman James O'Garra and APR McNeill, and Nelson Pate, the parks and rec program coordinator have all been a great help.
"When things got difficult, I could turn to them. And that's what I want to offer these kids. We aren't just coaches. We want them to be able to turn to us if things get tough."
This evening, the toughest thing is just keeping warm. Even coaches like William West and Brian Butts, two former high school linemen now sharing their experience as volunteers, have trouble shaking off the cold.
"You gotta love it!" said West, who played his ball at Sanford Central. "Just keep moving; keep moving."
And, as Buie said, the lessons learned on the practice field will last long after the cold is gone and the pads are put away.
"Most of these kids won't play organized ball after they leave here," he said. "Life goes on. But what they learn here, things like teamwork and being part of something bigger, trusting the guy next to you - those kind of lessons will benefit them wherever life takes them."
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