Football is more than a sport to the Jablonskis.
The Richmond Hill family wants to share their passion with as many as possible, but they want to make sure the athletes are safe when playing the physical game.
That’s especially important given the growing popularity of South Bryan County Recreation Department football. Rec coaches estimate that 200 players are gearing up for the 2015 season.
The Jablonskis formed a nonprofit, Full Potential Football, out of a desire to make sure players are safely equipped.
Their drive to ensure athletes’ safety began not long after they moved to Richmond Hill from Ohio five years ago. On arriving, they quickly plugged into South Bryan County Rec sports. Phil Jablonski began coaching, and his wife, Gina, served as team mom.
“Kids were coming to practice with equipment that wasn’t suitable, they were often hungry, and their shoulder pads were too small,” said Gina Jablonski. “They had blisters on their feet, or they were wearing soccer cleats. It wasn’t safe. Parents had come to us and verbalized their kids needed monetary help and help with the equipment. Phil and I decided we would start with our team, so we did that.
“In 2012, we began realizing a bigger need for it,” she continued. “In 2013, we began stepping up and buying when we saw the need.”
Phil Jablonski coached the South Bryan County Recreation U12 football team to a state championship in 2013.
Last year, he didn’t coach, but began serving on the rec board. That gave the Jablonskis a bird’s-eye view of the youth football players’ equipment situation.
“The problem wasn’t just for kids on our team; it was universal,” Gina Jablonski said. “We saw kids with the wrong equipment. We didn’t just want to call that out. We wanted to help and provide them what they needed.”
So they established Full Potential Football with the goal of making sure youth players are safe on the field.
“Last year was the lightbulb moment,” Gina Jablonski said. “This goes beyond equipping kids. This isn’t a low-income program; it is available for those in regards to safety.”
She added that 20 families are using donated equipment with a value of more than $2,000.
“So far, we’ve been able to fulfill requests,” Jablonski said. “Eighty percent of our items we have purchased on our own;
20 percent have been donated.”
With Full Potential Football, Phil Jablonski checks equipment, making sure it is in good condition and properly fits the athletes. Gina Jablonski keeps inventory and makes sure the right equipment is issued to those in need. Their younger son, 15-year-old Jake, a student athlete at Richmond Hill High School, also helps with computer work as well as seeking new items from friends and Wildcat teammates.
“I remember my parents having difficulties purchasing athletic gear for me,” Phil Jablonski said. “I can only imagine how tough it is today for families to purchase needed gear for their student athletes.”
The Jablonskis have another son, Nick, 25, who is an officer with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department. Phil Jablonski is an executive with Johnson Controls, a Fortune 100 company.
Full Potential Football needs previously used football equipment to build up a larger stock of inventory.
“Equipment is just showing up,” Jablonski said. “So many people have responded to generously give us their used equipment. Our greatest blessing is that we have been able to give this equipment away.”
The Jablonskis want local families and businesses to know that there are many ways to contribute.
“Every dollar we get, we use to the max,” Gina Jablonski said. “If businesses want to donate something, we will raffle it off to grow our funds for merchandise. We appreciate anything.”
The Jablonskis’ desire to help the growing athletes doesn’t stop with meeting their physical needs.
“We want to meet all their needs,” Gina Jablonski said. “Our relationships we have developed with these kids are a blessing. Tight bonds are formed. The bonds we are making make it all worth it. We want these kids to know we are faith, family and football — giving your all and glorifying God in all you do.”
Phil Jablonski added, “I believe that the players will see the kindness of others and God’s love for all through the love we have for the game, the players and our community.”
Eventually, Jablonski said, he would like Full Potential Football to grow to the point that it would be able to provide the resources for anyone who would like to play football.
“Moving forward, I would like to see FPF grow into a program where athletes can receive individual one-on-one training to be the best players they can be,” he said. “I would like to see the program expand into coaching/leadership training for youth coaches.”
That would include providing coaching seminars, training players and working with coaches at middle and high schools to create a reliable feeder program from rec football.