Youngsters Tackle Football
Pop Warner leagues stress teamwork, skills, and scholarship in 8-to-16-year-olds
(Page 2 of 2)
Still, the lure of football, plus Scanlon's easygoing but solidly organized effort supported by parents, means around 80 percent of the players stay with the teams.Skip to next paragraph
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David Devoe, 13, is a 99-pound quarterback and captain of the B team. ``He's the kind of a kid who would try to run through a brick wall if we asked him to,'' a coach says.
Standing on the sidelines, splotched with mud and sweat, David says his hero is Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins. ``My parents don't worry any more about my getting hurt,'' he says. In his sixth year of Pop Warner football, David says, ``Yeah, I like it. I'm going to play high school and college football.''
Not too far away stands Robin Beck, mother of 12-year-old Jeff Beck, a halfback on the B team who scored a touchdown in last week's game. ``He's really excited about this year,'' she says as Jeff carries the ball in practice on an end run and disappears in a pile of four tacklers. ``I used to be concerned about him getting hurt,'' she says, ``but after three years of this, it isn't so bad.'' Then, laughing as she watches him rise out of a muddy pile of players, she says, ``I guess he likes cracking heads.''
SOME experts disapprove of football for small children. ``I think it is inappropriate,'' says Albert Applin, head of the US Sports Academy in Mobile, Ala. ``For youngsters who are still developing physically, the risk of injury is too high, and the pressure on them is too great.''
``Football at a young age is a two-edged sword,'' says Mr. Schleser. ``All the traditional values of teamwork, persistence, and effort are there. But if the parents and coaches forget that the purpose of the game is for the kids to have fun, and they get caught up in winning and losing, then it can have serious negative consequences for kids and their self-worth. It all depends on the approach of the parents and coaches.''
Scanlon says he adheres closely to league rules: Every player plays in at least eight plays per game; every player has a doctor's permission to play; the teams pick their own captains; and no all-star teams or ``most valuable players.'' The emphasis is on hard work to improve skills and learn to be a team player. Last year Pop Warner started a national coach-certification program to meet insurance-liability requirements and to keep the level of coaching high.
``Football can open doors for some of these kids,'' Scanlon says, telling of several former players who won athletic scholarships to play football at big and small colleges. ``If you can get a college education by playing football, why not do it?'' he says. All of Scanlon's assistant coaches played for him at one time or another.
To raise money for team expenses, including uniforms for the more than 100 players, Scanlon holds one well-publicized raffle each year. ``We gave up on door-to-door cookie sales and other efforts years ago,'' he says. Raffle tickets cost $100 each, and the grand prize is a whopping $10,000. The rest goes to the team.
``If adults feel good about contributing to recreational activities for kids this way,'' says Schleser of the Center for Sports Psychology, ``and let the kids know this, then not winning won't be seen as negative.''