Pop Warner Football Begins

11 MM CG-Creswell Lions vs. Pleasant Hill 2 Lions

Down. Set. 24-17-5. Hut.

Fall brings cool crisp mornings, the turning of leaves and the start of two important things: a new school year and football!  In just a short time families all over the country will be enthusiastically following and cheering for their favorite teams – from Pop Warner to high school, college and professional football.  Beginning each August thousands of youth across the country gear up to practice and this week local boys and girls will take the field to start their 2013 seasons.

All-American Player - Coach Warner
All-American Player – Coach Warner

Like millions, I have always felt a special connection to one of America’s all-time favorite pastimes.  When I was growing up in my rural Southern town after school and weekends found me and my “neighborhood gang” in pick-up tackle football games on the playground. Without pads and helmets we “hit” and wrestled each other to the ground with a pigskin tucked under our arm.  Those games were brutal as we often walked away with bloody noses, scratches and giant bruises that lasted for weeks.  Back in the day we didn’t have the beckoning array of “every night” football at the mere flick of the remote that we have today.  Sunday was THE DAY which found the gang faithfully and enthusiastically watching and rooting on our favorite professional teams on the television.

My love of the game heightened during my early college days where I rotated playing halfback, quarterback and kicker, leading my dorm to numerous intramural flag football championships. Later on, I became the scout on Friday nights for the high school football program where I coached four varsity sports.  Still today, often times afternoons find my son and me designing and running plays, scoring touchdowns and chasing each other in the street where we live.  And geez with no known inherited football genes, I was-am “just” a girl who Ioved (still do) being a part of football!

Most Coaches will tell you without hesitation that participating in sports builds character. Players have the opportunity to learn life-long values like respect, determination, sportsmanship, knowing what’s right from wrong, selflessness, cooperation, trust and being accountable, how to keep bouncing back after you have experienced multiple failures–not much public debate fodder there.  What could be a topic of contention is where does the responsibility lie when less than moral and unlawful behaviors show up? Who’s responsible for this misconduct (foul play) on and off the field?

Athletes and Friends
Athletes. Teammates. Friends.

In my view a GREAT Coach understands how important it is to set the expectation first by positive role modeling.  In addition, GREAT Coaches spend as much time in the daily practice of developing their players’ emotional intelligence as they do in mastering the perfect execution of an offensive or defensive strategy.  Building sound moral character and achieving academic success were (still are) the key founding principles for the youth tackle football movement–POP WARNER.  Let’s briefly revisit the story of how youth football originated.

Dating back to 1929, Joseph L. Tomlin, an exceptional athlete himself and a stockbroker by training, was asked by a friend, a factory owner, to solve a recurring problem.  Along with his friend’s factory, it seemed the area businesses were being plagued by young vandals. Tomlin suggested that the area owners pool their resources and fund an organized recreation program to keep idle kids occupied and out of trouble.  The owners agreed, and asked Tomlin to set up a program.  Tomlin on his weekend commutes from NY to Philadelphia set about doing just that.

Fall was approaching, so football seemed a logical choice to begin the new project.  Joe set up a schedule for a four-team Junior Football Conference in time for the inaugural season. With the collapse of the stock market Tomlin left New York and returned to Philadelphia to focus full time on youth work.

Glenn Scobie “Pop” Warner, already a legend among active football coaches, arrived in Philadelphia to coach the Temple Owls.  Joe Tomlin met “Pop” Warner at a winter banquet and asked him to lecture at a spring clinic Tomlin was planning for his large Philadelphia-based youth football league.  Sure, “Pop” Warner, who is considered one of the greatest coaches in football history, innovated new offenses, won 319 NCAA games and his teams at “Pitt” won three national titles in four years, but his name got attached to Pop Warner Football by keeping his word.

In April 1934, Warner was scheduled to talk to players and coaches in the Junior Football Conference, in Philadelphia.  Warner was supposed to appear with eleven other area college coaches, but on the night of the talk the weather was horrendous.  Of all the coaches who had agreed to talk, only the legendary Warner showed up.

As the night’s only speaker, Warner took his speaking seriously.  He excited and inspired 800 boys with gridiron stories and answered their questions for more than two hours, and at the end of the night the players and youth league organizers were so taken with Warner’s dependability, generosity, enthusiasm, and dedication that they renamed their program the Pop Warner Little Scholars Conference.

Coach Pop Warner
Warner The Inspirational Coach

Having the prestigious Warner name associated to the Junior Football Conference was a powerful attraction.  By 1938, there were 157 teams.  Most of the players were at least 15 years old and a few were even over 30.  Tomlin as the spokesperson for the Pop Warner Conference (PWC) survived the depression years (although a lot of kids dropped out of school to work) and when World War II came, the Pop Warner Conference lost most of its older players.

Under the leadership of Tomlin the Conference rebounded to 100 teams in the 1947 season, however there was a shift in membership.  Many of the returning service-men abandoned football for work and to start families.  Over the next few years, the newly organized teams were composed of 15-year-olds or younger.  League Rules were set up to accommodate their minimum and maximum weights by age categories.  The era of “midget football” had begun.

The first “kiddie” bowl game, called the Santa Claus Bowl, was played on December 27, 1947 in 6 inches of snow before 2000 freezing spectators.  The Clickets midget team, sponsored by Palumbo’s, a Philadelphia supper club, competed against Frank Sinatra’s Cyclones, a New York team.  The Philadelphia team won the game, 6-0, and the Philadelphia Pop Warner Conference won the attention of the nation for the first time.

As football for kids began to develop in communities across the country, Tomlin was inundated with requests for help in formulating leagues.  He tirelessly responded to every request.  By the early 1950s, Tomlin was determined to “go national.”

Because of these heroics, each year, Pop Warner hosts the Pop Warner Super Bowl and National Cheer and Dance Championships.  For the past 11 years, the event has taken place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex™ at Disney World.  More than 300 cheer and dance squads and 64 football teams compete for the right to be crowned Pop Warner National Champion.  If Joe Tomlin were alive today, this “go national” wish fulfilled would make him beam from ear to ear.

After a few seasons of coaching his son in flag football, Fred Banks with the support of his wife Jill, decided there should be more local options for introducing and playing football– especially tackle.  Despite the lack of encouragement by some local youth sports leaders, they set out to see if there was any community interest and support to organize a Pop Warner program here in Lane County.  After the public meeting, with the enthusiasm of Banks and many dedicated volunteers, the Willamette Valley Pop Warner (WVPW) League was launched.

Willamette Valley Pop Warner Organized  2001
Willamette Valley Pop Warner Organized 2001

Not surprisingly, as those who are associated with WVPW can attest, when Fred, an athlete himself, decides to do something—major success will soon follow.  In its inaugural season, Fall 2002, with the efforts of a dedicated team of volunteers, WVPW ended up with just over 260 kids to make four teams in two divisions (eight teams all-together).  The organization grew from the 260 kids in 2002 to over 540 kids in 2004, and this year more than 1500 players will suit up here in the Willamette Valley Pop Warner area.

Fred Banks, the founding leader, has been WVPW’s president since its inception, and under his leadership the organization has expanded to 9 Associations which are all run solely by the services of dedicated volunteers.  It is noteworthy that there are no PAID positions in the Willamette Valley Pop Warner League.  However WVPW pays for officials and fees for field use.

Pop Warner continues to grow with over 425,000 enthusiastic boys and girls, aged 5-17, in 42 states and 6 countries.  Pop Warner is the largest and only youth football, cheer and dance program in the world that requires its participants to maintain academic standards in order to participate.  PW is the only national youth sports organization where building character is intentionally a part of the game plan.

11 MM N.Eugene Patriots vs. JC-Harrisburg 2 Jaguars
WVPW 11 MM | Image – Brad Kinzer Photography

Tomlin was a strong vocal advocate for developing a partnership between the sports and national educational establishments for the good of the students.  At first his belief fell on deaf ears but in 1959 Tomlin’s dream finally became a reality when Pop Warner Little Scholars was officially incorporated as a national non-profit organization.  The name was purposefully chosen to bring direct attention to the underlying mission of Pop Warner–that the classroom is as important as the playing field.

Today, we know a lot more about how to make the game safer, so that our kids can enjoy all the rewards of football, with less risk.  Coaches know that you tackle with your shoulder, not your head, to help prevent head injuries.  And, we know that injured players get out of the game, instead of playing through it.

Safety, Safety, Safety! – Kids compete with kids of similar age and size.  Pop Warner is the ONLY youth football program (local, regional and national) that sets and enforces a strict AGE & WEIGHT MATRIX that reduces the risk and reality of injuries.  Did you know that Pop Warner football is safer than soccer?  Pop Warner football has 12% fewer injuries per capita among 5-15 year olds than organized soccer in the same age range!

Ongoing training and certifying coaches on the fundamentals of safety, appointing Player Safety Coaches for every youth league to enforce safety protocols, ensuring proper equipment fitting, and teaching coaches, parents and players how to recognize and treat a concussion under protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which serves as the Gold Standard for safer play at every level.

As the only national youth sports organization that requires scholastic aptitude to participate, student athletes are required to keep their grades up.  If a player falls below the required minimum GPA during the season a weekly school progress report is mandated.  This must be signed by each teacher and kept in the team “Book” for the entire season.  It’s an incentive for the player to get his/her academic act together.

Where Athletics & Academics Go Hand in Hand
Where Athletics & Academics Go Hand in Hand

Pop Warner’s philosophy and commitment to both athletics and academics is what separates the program from other youth sports around the world.  POP WARNER involvement at every level stresses the importance of education in an arena conducive to developing sound moral character while having a good time.

Each year, the most academically accomplished Pop Warner 5th grade and over kids compete for Academic All-American status.  The POP WARNER ALL-AMERICAN SCHOLAR PROGRAM requires a minimum 96% grade point average to apply for All-American status.  Scholar-Athletes compete at the association level and up through each of the eight Pop Warner regions to the national level. All-American Scholar is a coveted honor within the POP WARNER Organization.

Each May during the Pop Warner Awards Banquet, PWLS also recognizes and awards individuals that have gone above and beyond in the lives of children as a positive influence and role model.  These individuals have been a close friend to or tied to the Pop Warner Little Scholars program in some fashion throughout the years.

Named after the founder of the Pop Warner Little Scholars program, the THE JOSEPH L. TOMLIN AWARD, is presented to an individual that has demonstrated outstanding character development, physical fitness, and academic achievement.

THE GLENN S. “POP” WARNER INSPIRATION TO YOUTH AWARD is presented to an individual who has inspired the youth of today to become great achievers of tomorrow.

The WVPW league offers the TYSON MAGE0-WHITE SCHOLARSHIP in honor of Tyson a POP WARNER Sheldon Titans football player who died at the age of 11 from leukemia. A heart-warming story of a young local player who gave of self to serve others, which truly embodied the Pop Warner spirit.

The WVPW league also offers the ROB COMER SCHOLARSHIP in honor of Rob who was

11 MM CG-Creswell Lions vs. Pleasant Hill 2 Lions
WVPW 11 MM | Image – Brad Kinzer Photography

instrumental in helping get Pop Warner going during its early seasons.  Rob passed away from cancer a few years ago.  In his honor a scholarship will be awarded to the candidate that has demonstrated and exemplifies the ideals and values of sportsmanship: Honesty, Integrity, Selflessness, Kindness, and Compassion.  The annual kick off Jamboree, a fundraiser for the organization, carries Comer’s name.

Over the years, the experience of learning to work together, and to be part of something bigger than themselves, set the stage for so many of these young athletes to achieve success on and off the field.  The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) estimates that between 60% and 70% of all NFL players began their careers playing Pop Warner Football. Although only a small percentage of youth players go on to play professional football, a great number of high profile business executives, and high school and college coaches have fond memories of first playing in a hometown POP WARNER league.

Regardless of where and on what level, players associated with the POP WARNER PROGRAM have had not only the opportunity to participate in the rich legacy of football but have been given an environment where life-long values of teamwork, cooperation, discipline and perseverance can be practiced and learned.

Luckily for our area, the earlier vision and mission set in motion by Tomlin and “Pop” himself fell on the ears of and ignited the right person.  Coach Banks with a few key leaders ignored the naysayers, masterfully organized a handful of tireless volunteers (his loyal wife too!), borrowed long hours set aside for family time to direct the planning and execution of the game plan for success and once in motion never looked back in creating what we have locally–a thriving WILLAMETTE VALLEY POP WARNER LEAGUE–a name synonymous with youth tackle football.

For all the WVPW news travel to: http://wvpw.org


A special thanks goes to Brad Kinzer Photography.


Dene is the Mom of two active children who are both sports enthusiasts. Dr Dene has been an educator and coached a variety of sports for various ages for over 30 years. She is an active volunteer Kidsports Coach here in Eugene and has served as an Executive Director for local day & overnight camps and mentoring programs for boys & girls. You can find her at drsuccesscoach.com or send an email to [email protected] ~ follow me on Twitter @DrSuccessCoach

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