By Brian Achatz, Pensacola News Journal
The Pensacola area delivered waves of support for the Escambia Gators, emotionally and financially, helping the program reach a goal of $15,000 to fund a state-title trip to Daytona for Thursday’s Class 6A state championship game against Miami Central.
In the closing days of the fundraising window, Escambia alumnus, University of Florida great and NFL Hall of Famer Emmit Smith contributed the final amount — $3,600 — to help the program reach the overall goal.
“Our community, individuals, businesses we are so thankful for,” Escambia head coach Mike Bennett said. “Emmitt got us over the hump, and we really appreciate him. The ’99 state championship runner-up team group came through for us. People from communities all around the area like Catholic, Pine Forest, Tate … all over the area reached out and we were able to pick up checks from them and it meant so much.”
Bennett added that a representative from Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities reached out to Escambia’s program to inquire about fundraising.
Shortly after, Emmitt Smith called Bennett’s daughter to finalize the donation.
“A lot of people don’t understand that Emmitt lives in Dallas,” Bennett said. “He’s got a daughter that’s in college and a son that is a really good high school football player in Texas and his team is still in the playoffs. When you’ve got kids that are playing sports or in college, it’s hard to be anywhere but where they are. We’re just really appreciative of his efforts.”
Smith was part of the 1984 and 1985 state championship teams at Escambia. Bennett said Reggie Johnson and Pat Moore, two of Smith’s teammates from the repeat-championship seasons at Escambia, will be in Daytona to meet with the team before kickoff.
The Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities mission statement reads: “Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities creates educational experiences and enrichment opportunities for underserved children with a focus on leadership development, school readiness and college scholarships.”
Brian Achatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org