More than 1,000 high school football players from more than 50 schools in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties took to the field Saturday as part of the Miami Dolphins’ ninth annual 7-on-7 tournament.
But before they had the chance to prove themselves on the gridiron at Plantation Central Park this weekend, the high school students began the three-day event at a symposium Friday night at Nova Southeastern University that emphasized character building and teamwork.
“We think education is the key to change and that these young men truly are leaders,” said Ndadi Massay, the executive director of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), a nonprofit organization founded by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross that launched in October. “They’re leaders in their communities. They’re leaders in their schools. Those who were blessed to move on to college sports will continue to lead.”
Derek Greenfield, a public speaker who generally focuses on motivation and innovation, served as the keynote speaker for the symposium. Dolphins rookie linebacker James Burgess also spoke Friday, focusing on the importance of making the most of every opportunity presented to you.
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“Even in an event like this where you have opponents and it’s great to drive each other, at the end of the day, you’re all in the same place,” Massay said. “It’s great to give each other some love and some support as well. Everyone has a story and everyone’s story is important.”
But after the symposium was finished, the athletes were ready to compete Saturday.
The first day of the tournament started with a preliminary round-robin format early in the day, allowing players to get acclimated and make as much use of the fields at Central Park as possible. The park’s seven soccer fields were each divided into a pair of 40-yard fields, and two baseball fields on the west side of the park were also used for 16 fields in total.
Among the schools in attendance were Carol City, which has won two of the past three Dolphins 7-on-7 tournaments, including a come-from-behind thriller last year; Fort Lauderdale Dillard, the tournament runner-up last year; and Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, last year’s State Class 7A champion.
The single-elimination tournament, which is used to determine the weekend’s champion, began later in the day and will conclude Sunday, with the first slate of elimination games beginning at 9 a.m.
“Kids walk in and they feel like it’s a national-looking event,” Twan Russell, the Dolphins’ senior director of community affairs and a Dolphins linebacker from 2000 to 2002, said in a release on the Dolphins’ website. “We put a lot of time and effort into it because when the kids walk on that football field, we want them to feel that they’re special, that they’re important to us so when we’re communicating to them, when we’re talking to them about character, they feel that we care about them.”
In addition to the high school tournament, three youth 7-on-7 tournaments (10U, 12U and 14U) also began Saturday, with 32 teams competing across the age groups.
“All these athletes want to play the game of football,” Russell said. “They want to compete, they want to go out and compete against their rivals here in South Florida.”