The proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" has been transferred to the gridiron by Northeast Ohio Pop Warner
, an organization inviting the region's children to participate either as football players or cheerleaders.
Kids aged 5-12 can play football, while the age range for cheerleaders is 5-13. The nonprofit is hosting two free preseason football and cheerleading training camps
this month for the underprivileged children the program services. The local chapter of Pop Warner is an extension of a century-old youth football organization with over 350,000 kids taking part worldwide.
Mark Wilson is chapter president and coach of the 8- and 9-year-old football team. For its first year of programming, Wilson hopes to have between 100 and 200 children involved between football and cheerleading. The summer will be spent practicing and training, with an 8-game season starting in September.
"The feedback has been great so far," says Wilson. "I've met parents who said they've never experienced anything like this."
The local team will be named the Ohio Village Wildcats
. The program is mostly aimed at inner-city Cleveland youth, but young athletes from all over the region are invited to try out. Pop Warner is designed to be an outlet for positive experiences both on and off the field. Along with football, the group hosts picnics and other family-friendly outings. It is also the only national youth sports organization that requires scholastic aptitude to participate.
The local team's name is no accident, either, Wilson notes.
"The mission is about keeping families together, not just showing up to do sports and go home," he says. "We're trying to make a stronger community, period."
SOURCE: Mark Wilson
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth