A few weeks ago, News-Times sports writer Scott Rouch wrote an article detailing that Pop Warner football is coming to Columbia County. For those who missed the story, here is a little background.
Burt Rayburn and Jimmy Cronan, a pair of longtime volunteer coaches in the county, had been toying with the idea of forming a new football league in the area. After doing some homework, Cronan got the paperwork started with Pop Warner Football.
The league, which started in 1929, is the oldest youth football organization in the country. It became known as the Pop Warner Football Conference after the legendary coach spoke to a large group of players in 1934. Since then the league has grown to more than 425,000 participants in football, cheerleading and dance, and is active in 43 states in the U.S.
Pop Warner is also the only league of its kind to have an academic requirement: No pass, no play for the 5- to 15-year-olds who participate.
After working hard with community leaders throughout the county, Rayburn and Cronan’s dream of bringing Pop Warner to the county has been realized with the formation of East Georgia Pop Warner. Registration is underway and will run through the end of July. The cost is $150 for those who sign up by June 1. After that, the cost will be $175. This covers jerseys, pants and socks, with parents responsible for helmets and shoulder pads.
The league will begin practicing in August, with games beginning in September. Also, all games will be played on Saturdays and will be played at local middle and high school fields.
In addition to the academic component and the fact that the league will have cheerleaders, there were other factors that brought Pop Warner to the county. First, the teams would have an opportunity to travel and possibly play other kids from across the country. Secondly, the league offers the opportunity to develop a feeder system, according to Rayburn.
“The biggest thing for the past 28 years that I have heard from parents is that they want their kids to play together,” Rayburn said. “For instance, if we live in the same neighborhood, our kids could be the same age, go to the same school, and be best friends, and they would probably play for two different teams.”
The plan for East Georgia Pop Warner is to group kids together based on where they live and go to school, and which middle and high school programs they will feed into.
One coach who is firmly behind the concept is Grovetown High School head football coach Rodney Holder.
“I will support any youth football league, but the feeder program is definitely needed,” he said. “The last two years, every single team that has made it to the Final 8 and beyond in the state playoffs has a feeder program.”
I must admit that threw me for a loop. That means for the past two years, in every classification, the top eight teams have all had feeder programs in football.
That is 40 schools, folks.
The state powers such as Buford, Parkview and Camden County all have this type of program.
Holder also marveled at how quickly football coach Dan Pippin has implemented such a plan in North Augusta.
“He told me that the first year some of the coaches hated the idea, but by the second year they were raving about how smart it was to go ahead and have the kids running the system they would likely run in high school,” Holder said. “You can make the playoffs without a feeder program, but you can forget getting past Round 2 without one.”
The same program would work in basketball.
“If we can win in baseball, soccer and golf, there is no reason we can’t do the same thing in football and basketball,” Holder said.
Holder likes the idea so much that he will be conducting a football clinic June 14-15 that will be free for all Pop Warner players. The camp will be held at Grovetown High School and will be run by the Grovetown High School staff.
Also, Pop Warner has brought in Charlie Beale, who will bring instant credibility to Pop Warner as their executive director. Beale ran the Columbia County Recreation Department for more than 30 years, and is one of the more respected men in youth sports in the country. He recently retired from Columbia County, but has agreed to come on board with Pop Warner.
To find out more about East Georgia Pop Warner Football, go to www.east georgiafootball.com.