Members of the Menomonie High School football team, from Menomonie, Wis., demonstrated that success is not something defined by a team's statistics but rather by the state of mind that can only be reached through a combination of determination, leadership and above all, teamwork.
That understanding was seen during the NFL's High School Player Development (H.S.P.D) 7-on-7 National Tournament held July 7-10 in Cleveland, Ohio. After clinching the school's second H.S.P.D 7-on-7 regional championship title June 25 at the Don Hutson Center, 12 members from the Menomonie High School football team advanced to the national tournament as the official representatives of the Green Bay Packers.
Twenty-four of the top teams from around the country were invited to the tournament, with Menomonie representing one of the smallest schools competing. As the smallest team, Menomonie was also considered by many to be the least likely to advance against the many teams stacked with NCAA Division 1 prospects. However, with odds stacked against them, Menomonie players worked through the adversity to ultimately make the most noise during the third annual tournament.
Day one of the tournament consisted of five pool-play games. Menomonie, the official team representing the Green Bay Packers, started off with back-to-back wins over the Detroit Lions- and the Atlanta Falcons-sponsored teams, 31-21 and 37-21, respectively.
After dropping game three to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 17-7, the Packers went on to win the final two games of day one over the New Orleans Saints (24-21) and the St. Louis Rams (21-14), ending the day tied for the best record in the NFC.
During the second day of pool-play, the Packers continued to succeed with a 21-20 victory over the Chicago Bears and a 28-21 win over the New York Giants, who Menomonie High School football coach Joe LaBuda considered to be one of the fastest and most talented teams in the tournament. But for the smallest team in the tournament, the Packers ended the pool-play round with the best record in the NFC, which consisted of 12 teams, and received the No. 1 seed in the single-elimination tournament and a first-round bye.
Due to regulations regarding high school coaches and players contact during the off season, Coach LaBuda was not able to be the team's instructor on the sideline. However, it was a defining moment for him as he saw his players take their leadership skills to a whole new level.
"Going into the tournament we knew we were one of the smallest teams and would be competing against several NCAA Division 1 prospects who were faster and even more talented but that did not discourage them," LaBuda said.
"The level of teamwork our guys displayed was outstanding. Everyone really stepped up and I know they understand the concept and importance of leadership now more than ever.
"Our quarterback was the one out there calling all the plays while the team worked together to execute them."
The two days of pool-play, a total of eight 20-minute games, was without a doubt exhausting, but also an experience all participating teams will forever cherish.
The Packers managed to prove the statistics and doubtful spectators wrong with their early success. However, their successful run came to an end during the single-elimination round later that day. After defeating the Giants 28-21 in the final round of pool-play, the Giants sought redemption and defeated the Packers 14-7, eliminating them from the tournament with a 6-2 record.
Despite the elimination the Packers had every reason to keep their heads up as they learned more about themselves and the success they can reach when working as a team.
"In my mind they were the hardest working team out of the 24," Packers youth football coordinator Tim Schroeder said of Menomonie. "They kept a positive attitude throughout the entire tournament and picked each other up when guys got down on themselves. They were a great representation of the Green Bay Packers both on and off the field."
Menomonie players not only proved to themselves that success is not measured only by the number of victories on the gridiron, but rather by the determination and ability to work as a cohesive unit on and off the field. In fact, their efforts as a team off the field helped them garner selection as they were selected as the one team to share its community service project with the nation on the NFL Network.
Each participating team was asked to perform a community service project in its hometown and share the experience with other teams during the tournament. For Menomonie, working within its community is something it has done for many years and has always been a fun and rewarding experience. This year's project proved to be extra special for Menomonie, as it was quite fitting by representing the defending Super Bowl champion Packers.
"For the past few years our team holds a Super Bowl party for several clinics caring for mentally and physically challenged patients in our area," LaBuda said. "A day or two before the Super Bowl, our team and the Menomonie Recreation Department throws a big party for the patients. They all come dressed in their Packers apparel and get ready for the big game. It is one of the team's most favorite and rewarding occasions all year. And with the Packers in the Super Bowl, we couldn't have had a better Super Bowl party and celebration."
Days after the tournament, coach LaBuda was not beaming like most coaches may after their team showcased an over-the-top performance on the gridiron. Instead he and his team could not hold back their gratitude toward the Packers organization and the NFL for giving them the experience.
"Above all, the team and I could not be more appreciative of the Green Bay Packers and the NFL for making this such an amazing experience," said LaBuda. "They really made every minute of the experience special and the kids cannot thank them enough.
"I think the highlight for the guys was learning the value of teamwork. Being the smallest team and maybe even the underdog, our guys proved that leadership and teamwork can bring success. But again, everything the Packers and the NFL did for the guys was something they will never forget and will always cherish.
"Everything from the trip down to Cleveland, playing at the Browns practice facility and get a private tour of the Pro Football Hall of Fame was amazing. I am so proud of the guys and I know they have taken a lot out of the experience."
The Miami Dolphins won the tournament for the third year in a row after defeating Atlanta 41-14 in the championship held at the Cleveland Browns stadium.
About the National 7-on-7 Tournament
The NFL's National 7-on-7 Tournaments provides high school football players that have completed the H.S.P.D program a platform to compete in non-contact 7-on-7 play against other top players from around the country. As an extension of the H.S.P.D program, the all-expense paid event includes character development sessions as well. The event lasts four days and three nights. For more information visit http://www.nflhspd.com/7-on-7/2011-national-tournament/.