After a season in which the local rec league football team found itself without a real home, community members are hoping to grow community support for their Riley Hill Eagles this season.
After five seasons playing home games at East Wake High School, the Riley Hill Mighty Mites and Pee Wees learned just weeks before their season opener they wouldn’t be able to use the field last year because problems with the turf led school officials to worry about overuse.
The team made do, playing a lot of road games and using whatever fields they could to carry on for the season.
As this season begins to unfold, Pee Wee coach Steve Perry says the team is still looking for a permanent home, but he is confident the issue will be resolved before the season opens next month, even if it means playing home games on the team’s practice field.
Earlier this month, members of Riley Hill Baptist Church gathered on a hot Saturday morning to raise money and offer their moral support for the program. Games and souvenir stations were set up outside the church, while inside the church’s fellowship hall, more volunteers were preparing hot dog lunches. The event was designed to raise money, but it was also intended to raise awareness of the benefits the football program has to offer. Several of the young athletes were on hand to hear speakers who talked about their experience playing football at Vaiden Whitley High School.
Jamie Holland, a former Wake Forest-Rolesville High School football player who went on to play at Ohio State and for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, recalled playing sports with friends in the Riley Hill community as a child.
“My brother stayed down in the Ponderosa,” Holland said, referring to a subdivision in the area. “We played on the baseball field all day. It was hot, but that field was the place to be,” Holland said.
He said playing sports as a youth gave him a solid foundation to improve his skills and learn the value of commitment. “Thank God you’re doing what you’re doing,” Holland told church members in the room. He said college coaches and professional talent scouts will find players with the ability to play at the next level, no matter how humble their beginnings might be.
Perry, the Pee Wee coach, echoed some of Holland’s comments, thanking church members for the support they are showing the program. “We’re going to be competitive on the field. The issue for us, aside from the financial piece, is leadership. That’s what we need from groups like Riley Hill Baptist Church,” Perry said.
Perry described the Riley Hill football program as more than just a gridiron exercise. “I tell all our coaches to pick a kid and stay in that kid’s life as long as they want you in their life,” Perry said.
Perry and other program officials hope support from local institutions like Riley Hill Baptist will lead to even more success on the playing field where Riley Hill teams have won two East Wake Football League Super Bowl titles in their eight-year history. But more importantly, they hope the support will send a signal to the players that their community supports them.