The Petaluma Panthers Junior Pee Wee football team (9-11-year-olds) will compete Dec. 14-17 in the first Pro Football Hall of Fame National Youth Championship.

Billed as the “Little League World Series of Youth Football,” the tournament will be played in Canton, Ohio, home of the National Football League Hall of Fame.

To get invited to the championship tournament the Panthers defeated Grants Pass, 36-0, and the Santa Rosa Stallions, 12-6, in a competition that began with teams from Northern California and 10 other states.

To reach the pinnacle, the Panthers have been practicing and playing under coach Mario Giomi and his staff since mid-July, but the work actually began even before the young athletes played tackle football.

It began in a flag football league organized by St. Vincent head football coach John Antonio. The players stayed mostly together as they moved up the tackle-football ranks.

“The players know one another and they play well together,” said Antonio. “Every player has a role, and they are good at it.”

Both Giomi and Antonio work for the Petaluma Police Department.

To help make the Panthers’ dream trip possible, a gofundme page has been set up at

Donations can also be made directly at any Exchange Bank location. Checks should be made payable to the Petaluma Panthers — Attention: Jr. Pee Wees National Championship Fund, and can be mailed to P.O. Box 4671, Petaluma, CA 94955.