TUBA CITY, Ariz. - Marison Bilagody just wants to play football. Unfortunately, his school doesn't have enough helmets or equipment, and the equipment they do have most parents and coaches would deem unsatisfactory and unsafe.
Bilagody is a seventh grader at Tuba City Junior High School where he plays defensive end and safety. He made the junior varsity this year, but last year as a sixth grader he was cut simply due to a lack of helmets for the student-athletes. Tuba City Junior High has the same problem this year.
According to Michael Bilagody, Marison's father, the sixth graders were invited to participate in football with the rest of the junior high students but then promptly cut shortly after due to this lack of equipment.
"Last year the team members completed a lot of the training and conditioning at the beginning and then they were told that they were cut from the team suddenly because there were only 12 helmets," said Bilagody, talking about his son when he was in sixth grade. "Marison came home visibly upset, and he wasn't the only one."
This year Marison came home after the start of the football season and informed his parents that once again a lot of kids would not be able to participate because of the lack of helmets. Junior varsity would then be unable to partake in many of the games because of this shortage of helmets. He felt this was wrong and decided he needed to do something to help his current classmates and future students of the junior high school.
Marison and his father then diligently went to work. Both Bilagodys researched how they could receive additional funding, grants, donations, anything that could help the football team and the athletic program in general. Helmets would be a good start, but with severely deteriorating bleachers (and no bleachers at all for the visitors side), old uniforms, no score board, and no soft track for cardio and conditioning, there's plenty more work to be done.
The elder Bilagody wrote letters and emails to the athletic director, the principal, the Tuba City superintendent, the city manager, school board members, and district administrators asking not only why this has happened to the student-athletes, but what can be done to rectify the situation and prevent it from happening again. He also wrote to Dr. Tanya Gorman-Keith, director of federal programs for the Tuba City Unified School District, to report on the dismal state of football and athletic equipment and inquire about applying for grants offered by USA Football, the NFL and their Youth Football Fund, or other applicable grantors.
"After about a week or two, I then sent out another email to my old military unit," Bilagody said. "I also met with the athletic director, Mr. Jamie Roe. Basically he said there is no money in the school district right now. We knew we were going to have to keep trying on our own."
The younger Bilagody offered resolution in the form of an academic solution, when he approached his father's "old boss," the Commandant of the Marine Corps General C.C. Krulak, and pledged to earn straight A's for the entire school year. Marison is currently an honors student and wants to attend the United States Naval Academy, United States Air Force Academy, or West Point Academy to become an aviator pilot for the F-35A Lightning II fighter. He wants to excel in academics, athletics, and society eventually serving the United States in a military capacity for Air-Ground Mission Support.
Marison won the Eagle's Nest Intermediate School Geography Bee and he represented Tuba City as a participant of the State Geography Bee on March 30 of this year as a sixth grader, finishing in fourth place. Community members can find Marison collecting aluminum cans on the weekends with two goals in mind, cleaning up the city and turning the cans in for money to take his family to the movies.
The Bilagodys are leading this fundraising effort for the purchase of a minimum of 55 new helmets for the junior high school's football team. They are reaching out to friends, family, military branches and their football programs, community members, school district members, and whoever else would like to help the youth of Tuba City.
"I believe in Marison's quest and vision for his team not only for this season but for upcoming students behind him in sixth grade and future junior high students," said Bilagody. "I hope Marison and his peers excel in their every endeavor in life and for society."
Bilagody added that Marison also expressed his concern for the safety of himself and all his teammates, which new helmets and equipment would drastically remedy.
If interested in supporting Marison and his quest to fundraise for new helmets for the Tuba City Junior High Braves, please send contributions to: Tuba City Unified School District No. 15 P.O. Box 67 Tuba City, AZ 86045. The school district can also be reached by telephone at (928) 283-1006 or fax at (928) 283-5105.
Please note upon the check or other form of payment that it is for the Tuba City Junior High School New Helmets: Purchase Fund. Additional questions may be directed to Michael S. Bilagody at P.O. Box 2042 Tuba City, AZ 86045.
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