A football playground

Pop Warner league grooms young players, cheerleaders

Most Pop Warner teams get plenty of support from a cheer squad. Photos by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

Perched on a vehicle that resembles an oversized golf cart, Corey Simon had the best seat at Apalachee Regional Park on a recent Saturday morning.

To his left, a Pop Warner football game was going on. The same was taking place just in front of where he sat with a visitor. There was another game underway at Simon’s right, too.

Most teams had a cheer leading squad on the sidelines, where parents encouraged their little boys.

In between keeping abreast of all of the action as president of Big Bend Pop Warner, Simon’s phone rang intermittently. One call was from a coach who wanted to know where his team was scheduled to play. Another was an inquiry about the youth football program.

“There is a lot of football in Tallahassee and we get a lot of people who call and want to get their children involved,” said Simon, who has been associated with the league since 2009 when his son played.

Simon has enough history as a former FSU football player who made good in the NFL for eight years. But on this Saturday, like every other Saturday between late August and October, was never about him.

Too much character building was taking place in the process of playing a game.

“This is that outlet for them,” Simon said. “I didn’t start becoming as confident as I was until I started playing football. That confidence is something that can spur them on in their future. I love to see that very meek and mild young man that comes to our program and by the end of the season they are leaders.

“That’s the reason why we do this. Football, cheer and dancing is really a vehicle to see our young people go out and be successful and find that confidence in themselves to make it happen.”

Jordan Kelly, a student at Conley Elementary, could vouch for that. He confidently responded to every question about his four years of playing Pop Warner football.

Some of the plays that his Woodville Black Jaguars ran in a 21-0 win over Canopy Oaks seemed complicated for little boys ages 9 to 12.  They executed each one with accuracy of players much older, though.

“It makes us who we are,” Kelly said. “We don’t want to do it to make a name. We just want to have fun.

“I have fun by coming out here and playing with everybody else.”

That was the idea when Pop Warner started 90 years ago. The Tallahassee conference started about 15 years ago and has seen constant growth. Five areas — Chaires, Canopy Oaks, Woodville, and Bradfordville – are made of the 16 teams that are involved in tackle play, while Fort Braden is reviving its program at the flag level.

Two teams from nearby South Georgia also plays in the Big Bend league, making up an eight-game schedule for each team.

Playing in the league cost each player $100 if they register early. Late registration cost $25 more.

The season could be a long one for at least one team that makes it to the national championship in November. The path to the nationals begins with local playoff winners at the pee-wee and mitey mites level (ages 9 to 12) advancing to regional play for a berth to the nationals in Orlando.

Former FSU and NFL star Corey Simon, right, gets help from Andy Dawson, commissioner of Big Bend Pop Warner.

Alphonso Carter has been a coach in the league for more than half of its existence. He’s stayed that long because of the opportunity for other young men to develop their talent and perhaps parley it into a college scholarship like he did, he said.

“It’s just a way for me to give back to the community; something that they gave me when I was a kid,” said Carter, coach of the Black Jaguars. “I don’t know if I would have gone to college without that opportunity and somebody there teaching me the game.”