You can’t blame Central High football coach Peter Rios if he decides to cut the sleeves off his new hoodie and look a little bit like Bill Belichick’s on the sidelines next fall…It would be fitting since the sweatshirt will be a gift from the New England Patriots.
As part of its commitment to youth football, the New England Patriots Foundation recently distributed $250,000 in grants to five New England High School football teams, including $100,000 to Rhode Island squads. Both the Central and Cumberland High football programs were the RI recipients, each receiving $50,000. The grants were the result of funds generated by the Patriots Foundation’s Super Bowl LIII raffle. Proceeds from the raffle were designated to support youth football in the form of grants.
This marked the second grant Central, the only Providence school to compete in the state’s top division, received from the Patriots. A year ago, the Knights received $10,000 from the Patriots.
“I think the (Patriots owner) Bob Kraft has a soft spot for Providence schools,” said Rios. “The generosity is incredible. It shows we matter …that city kids matter. We are extremely grateful.”
This fall, in the middle of the high school football season, Rios was teased by a phone call from Patriots Foundation President Josh Kraft.
“He said he had some news for us,” said Rios. “He said he couldn’t tell me what he it was, but he said it was going to be good news.”
With an injury to his starting quarterback and his team in the mix to earn a playoff spot, the focus was getting his team healthy and into the postseason. The phone call from Josh Kraft and all thoughts of what the good news might be were put in the back of his mind,,,,until Patriots Hall of Famer Andre Tippett called.
“He said he was going to come to our practice and award us $50,000,” said Rios. “I said, ‘That is great news. Our kids could use it.'”
North of Providence at Cumberland High, Josh Lima received a similar call. He was sitting in his office surrounded by his coaching staff when a call came in from Josh Kraft. The President of the New England Patriots Foundation and son of Patriots owner Bob Kraft told Lima the Clippers would be receiving a $50,000 grant.
“I just stood there on the other end of the phone and didn’t say anything,” said Lima. “I guess I was in shock. When I hung up the phone and told my coaching staff that we were getting $50 grand from Patriots they didn’t believe me.”
Doubt disappeared when Tippett. the All Pro linebacker, showed up at the Clippers’ practice to present the check for $50.000.
“We are super, super excited,” said Lima. “A lot can be done (with the money). Public schools get a small amount of dollars designated for football. I always have a wish list every season, but financially a lot of things aren’t possible. This money will help us in a lot of different ways We will be able to replace a lot of old stuff and buy new, better equipment that will help in the development of players. When you have better equipment you are able to train your players in a different way. With new better equipment safety increases. The money will really help our program.”
Both Lima and Rios praised each other’s programs and immediately sent congratulatory text messages to each other when they learned not one, but two Rhode Island public schools would be receiving $50,000.
“I’ve known Coach Rios for a long time. Great guy. Central and Cumberland are in two different areas and have two different programs, but both are public school programs that can really use the money,” said Lima.
Rios had similar sentiments for Lima.
“Josh is one of the top young coaches in the league,” said Rios. “He is doing a great job building the program.”
The funding will help both teams compete in the state’s top division.”
.“The money truly means a lot, especially for the future of this program,” said Central assistant coach Mike Washington. “It gives us a chance to better prepare our kids for the football seasons to come. It also gives Central a chance to offer a unique experience for kids looking to play Division 1 football in the inner city. We will have a lot more to offer once we get the ball rolling.“
Equally as important as the funding was the message Tippet delivered to both programs.
“His message was great…spot on,” said Lima. “We always tell these guys that football is a small scope in life…but the lessons they learn through football – discipline, accountability, teamwork..they are going to use those lessons throughout life. We talk about how football prepares you for life…it was nice to see Andre Tippett giving the same message. It reinforces what we are doing.”
For now, both Cumberland and Central will focus on the postseason. Both teams have secured a spot in the Division I playoffs, which open up this weekend. The Knights face Shea in the opening round while the Clippers travel to La Salle.
When the season ends, both head coaches will sit down with their coaching staffs and discuss how the grant money will be spent.
Like a child putting together his holiday list for Santa, Washington has a wish list.
“A lot of needs come to mind when you talk about a wish list. First order of business would be to upgrade the athletic training room,” said Washington. “Football is a rigorous sport and we want to make it a priority to keep kids healthy and keep them on the field. Injuries are bound to happen, but when you are investing in treatment and prevention methods it gives you a better chance to speed up recovery and minimize injuries on the team.”
Rios will buy Central hoodies for this year’s team – a luxury purchase for the program.
“Hoodies will cost about $2,000. We definitely wouldn’t have the money to busy those,” said Rios. “It’s great to be able to get hoodies for everyone on our team this year. “
Rios will be wearing his on the sidelines next season, perhaps with the sleeves cut…a symbolic way of saying thank you to the Patriots.
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