The Dolphins' never-ending commitment to youth and high school football was recognized in a big way this past weekend.
Pop Warner Little Scholars, the nation's oldest youth football, cheer and dance organization and the only one with established academic standards, held its 59th annual All-American Scholars Banquet on Saturday in Baltimore and the Dolphins were among those honored.
The Dolphins were recognized as the Pop Warner NFL Team of the Year, given annually to a franchise that has demonstrated commitment and support of their community and youth.
RaShauna Hamilton, Director of Youth Programs and Camps, accepted the award on the Dolphins' behalf.
"It's a great honor to be the person that was able to represent the Dolphins and all of the work we do," Hamilton said Tuesday. "All of the programs that we've designed and executed and have seen all the way through to fruition and seeing the impact that it's made on the community and then understanding how Pop Warner has viewed that as important is really special.
"When we run these programs, we sit down and we try to think through, who is this going to impact? Whose life is this going to change? And what opportunities and what doors are we opening for kids and youth in our community? When that is the focus, it just kind of goes to show that when you focus on the right things, people take notice of that. To get the publicity is great, but I think what's even better is the people that we're reaching here in South Florida."
Among the Dolphins' many programs and initiatives to benefit the youth and high school football community in South Florida:
- The annual coaches clinic at Hard Rock Stadium
- The girls flag football jamboree
- Summer camps and one-day camps
- Team visits to Dolphins practice
- High School Media Day at Hard Rock Stadium
- Equipment donations
This year the Dolphins will start running a girls flag football league.
"That's super exciting," Hamilton said. "Getting girls excited to play the game and giving them some pretty memorable experiences, not just the boys."
The commitment to youth and high school football runs throughout the organization, starting with Owner Stephen Ross and Vice Chairman/President/CEO Tom Garfinkel.
"Our youth programs tries to teach, learn and play the game in a fun, safe environment," Hamilton said. "We try to use our resources to the best of our ability to provide additional resources to the community. We want every youth football player to say that they've been able to have some type of meaningful interaction with the Dolphins and somehow it has made them not just a better football player but also a better person. And I think what's rewarding for me is the fact that our senior leadership agrees with that mission, they agree with that vision, and they agree with those goals that we've set. All the way up to Mr. Ross and Tom, just knowing that they find this to be a very important priority within our organization."
The banquet Saturday recognized Pop Warner student-athletes who achieved All-American Scholar status by earning a 96 percent GPA or higher.
Awards were presented to exceptional athletes and other outstanding people who have demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to athletics, education, community and our nation's youth.
Winners besides the Dolphins were Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr for the Inspiration to Youth Award; Toni Harris, the first female skill-position player to receive a full football scholarship for the Female Achievement Award; Washington Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan for the Humanitarian Award; and former NFL player, coach and author Joe Erhmann for the Gold Football Award.
"When thinking about teams that have shown an unwavering commitment to youth football programs, the Dolphins came to mind immediately," said Jon Butler, Pop Warner Little Scholars' executive director. "Not only does their Junior Dolphins Program use NFL resources to teach young athletes the fundamentals of football, but it also puts an emphasis on character development. This is in complete alignment with our mission here at Pop Warner, and we're thrilled to have them as our 2019 NFL Team of the Year."
When the Dolphins returned to practice Tuesday for the final week of OTAs, they hosted members of the Monarch High School team from Coconut Creek, Florida.
It was another reminder the commitment to youth and high school football never wavers.