Leading up to the NFL Flag Championships at the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas, the Rams hosted a surprise sendoff rally for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Beyond the Bell Flag Football team competing in the tournament.
Rams Cheerleaders and Rampage visited the team's last practice and surprised them with swag bags that contained Rams branded arm sleeves, shorts, rally towels, flags and posters. Additionally, the cheerleaders briefly spoke to the players about team spirit, unity, the power of football and the excitement of representing the Rams at the Pro Bowl. The cheerleaders and Rampage also participated in team-building exercises with the players.
The following day, the team flew to Las Vegas to compete in the championship tournament, attend the East-West Shrine Bowl and attend the Pro Bowl to see some of the game's biggest stars.
"To bring this team into a national tournament," said Rafael Acosta, LAUSD Beyond the Bell Regional Director, "we saw this as an awesome opportunity to really pick our students up and give them something they haven't experienced in so long, also giving them the chance to play."
In October 2021, the Rams partnered with Beyond the Bell (BTB) to launch a flag football league for LAUSD middle school students. The 10 player team, students ages 13 and 14, was selected through regional tryouts at the end of the season in November. The Rams provided the flights, hotel rooms, and experiences for the team competing in the championship.
"It's about access and opportunity. Looking at this through a lens of building equity, this partnership is able to create exposure. For some of these kids, this will be their first time on an airplane, their first time out of their community, out of California," said Johnathan Franklin, Rams Director of Social Justice and Football Development. "Through the power of football, we're able to provide this experience and that access. They're able to engage with individuals from different states and school districts. So, when you talk about the impact of breaking barriers that may exist culturally and ethnically, we're able to do this through the partnership. Obviously, we want to grow the game of football, but it's the power of football that's the biggest takeaway, the resources we're able to provide, not just on the field but off the field as well."
To kick off the league last fall, the Rams provided reversible jerseys to 5,028 students at 110 LAUSD middle schools as well as flag football kits with 10 footballs, 50 flag belts and three kicking tees.
"Working with the schools, it's a special and unique platform," said Acosta. "This is where the students are intended to learn and grow. Getting to learn and grow on the field with the kids that you go to school with, the kids that you're growing up with, and then being sponsored by a team like the Rams just adds that special sense of purpose and connection that can carry them forward as they grow up as fans, always remembering the Rams sponsored us to do this. It's a lot of dedication on everybody's part but it's that behind-the-scenes support that a lot of students in our community are missing, especially coming off the heels of a pandemic, we got so disconnected. So, when teams buy in and invest in programs like Beyond the Bell, it's only going to set up the next generation. I think it's an invaluable opportunity that more teams should invest in. We're very grateful for the Rams and all their support. Uniforms are one thing, supplies are one thing, but experiences and memories live on forever."
The flag football league included an 8-week season, a regional tournament and a citywide championship. On Sunday, Dec. 5, the team selected to compete at the NFL Flag Championships had a scrimmage on the field at SoFi Stadium before kickoff of the Rams-Jaguars game.
"The fellowship, support and involvement is one thing. Going to games and watching your heroes, your idols, is another, but then getting to represent them is an honor," said Acosta. "It puts the kids in a different position, especially our kids, to understand that people are invested in you, people believe in you and they want to give you those opportunities. Then, when it's the LA Rams, which are now the 'Super Bowl Rams' or the Lakers, Dodgers, LAFC, whoever it is… it just means a little bit more. A lot of our kids come from low-income communities and backgrounds where maybe their families did not have these opportunities. They may have a different income status but yet, on the field, they're all equal. In our program, they're all equal. So, it's an opportunity to bring equity to programs like ours."
To learn more about the Rams' community efforts, please visit www.therams.com/community.