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RACINE — Playing for national championships certainly isn’t anything new for the storied Racine Raiders franchise.

But it’s also a moment not to be taken for granted – rather, it must be savored.

And don’t think for a second the Raiders and their faithful fan base aren’t doing just that.

Racine (15-0 overall) will travel to Washington, D.C., on Saturday night to face the West Sound Rebels from Tacoma, Wash., in the Gridiron Developmental Football League championship game. Kickoff at Fairmont Heights High School is at 5 p.m.

Racine Raiders Anton Graham Varsity Head Football Coach Case High School
Anton Graham, number 43 for the Racine Raiders – Photo courtesy of Anton Graham

The season finale will close the books on the Raiders’ 70th season. Racine, with 666 victories in team history, has nine previous national titles to its credit. The Raiders moved into the title tilt with a 31-8 victory last week over defending national champion, Syracuse Strong.

Syracuse had a 16-game winning streak prior to the Raiders’ victory. West Sound advanced to the finale with a 26-24 victory over the Inglewood (CA) Blackhawks.

There’s no doubt the excitement is building around these parts.

“Racine and our fans are electrified,” said Don Wadewitz, vice president of marketing and lead broadcaster. “Fans are reaching out asking about fan buses, viewing parties, hotel room blocks and more. It’s actually challenging keeping up with everything being that we’re an all-volunteer organization. It really shows that the Racine Raiders are your hometown team.”

This week’s title game marks the second straight long road trip east for the Raiders, who traveled 14-1/2 hours to Syracuse for the national semifinal matchup.

Wadewitz said the team’s first journey into the GDFL has seemed to spark the Raiders a bit on this current path to the championship contest – and it’s because many see this weekend’s matchup as the “truest” national title game at this level of football.

With a win on Saturday, the Raiders will have victories over teams representing 10 states and the District of Columbia, and those teams played opponents representing another nine states.

“That’s 20 states total from east to west and north to south, which would make this a national title that just can’t be equaled in today’s semi-pro world,” Wadewitz said. “We’ll have traveled over 5,000 miles this year. We beat six teams that were unbeaten, three that were runners-up in another league and one that was the league champion.

“This national title just wouldn’t be able to be equaled by any other team in the country that might claim to have won one by playing in a bowl game after playing local competition during their league season. It’s a special opportunity for the players, coaches, volunteers and fans.”

Seeking first crown in nine years

The last Raiders’ national title came in 2014 under then-first-year head coach Wilbert Kennedy, who guided Racine to a 39-8 victory over the Detroit Seminoles at Horlick Athletic Field in Racine.

A quick look at the Raiders’ season schedule shows quite a dominating effort.

Racine had back-to-back one-score victories, 27-19 over Motor City Rams and 30-22 over St. Paul Pioneers, to close out the regular season, but save for those two, the Raiders have rumbled through the competition.

Including two forfeit wins that count as 2-0 victories, the Raiders outscored their other nine opponents, 268-17.

Racine Raiders
Justin Benko leaps for a successful interception. – Credit: Mike Ramczyk

The playoff run has been equally as dominating, as Racine opened with a 43-0 win over Tri City (Tenn.) Outlaws, followed by a 41-10 win over Huntsville (Ala.) Rockets and the 31-8 decision last week over Syracuse.

Having a chance at the franchise’s 10th national title speaks to the entire organization – from top to bottom – Wadewitz said.

“No other team in the country can match what the Racine Raiders do as an organization at this level of football or for as long as we’ve done it,” Wadewitz said. “It’s all aspects – overall operations, coaching, atmosphere, game day operations, concessions, merchandising, volunteers, ticketing.

“You might find a team here or there that does something a little better than us for a period of time, but as a whole package, nobody can come close. Players know what kind of experience they’re going to get in Racine playing for the Racine Raiders, and that makes the best players want to come here, even if it might take some of those players a little longer to figure it out.”

Raiders, fans gearing up

Wadewitz spoke to a reporter Monday, several days before the team’s departure east.

Racine Raiders
This Gatorade shower Coach Kennedy received for a regular season game against the Wisconsin Hitmen on June 11 shows how much the team loves a good win. The Raiders walked away with a 35-34 victory that night. – Credit: Mike Ramczyk

This makes two straight weeks of long road trips, but it’s all worth it, he said.

“Last week was a grind, and this week will be similar,” Wadewitz said. “I left my house at 4 p.m. (last) Friday and got back at 10 p.m. on Sunday. In between was about 28 hours on a coach bus and two broadcasts. Some players had even crazier schedules with (high school) coaching commitments.

“People were getting really creative with finding ways to get to Syracuse, and we showed up with 50 guys, which was more than the home team suited up. Once we get there and get set up, I can take a deep breath and enjoy it for a few hours.”

Fans who can’t make the trip are invited to a local viewing party at Angry Brothers Pub and Grill in Mount Pleasant. Fans will be treated to giveaways and a 50/50 raffle as part of the festivities.

The game will be broadcast live at Joining Wadewitz on the play-by-play will be color commentator Emlyn Thomas and sideline reporter Kevin Quijano.


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