Pee wee football puts the pop in kids sports
by ED PIPER
Published - 11/17/15 - 10:16 AM | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cole Roberts (8) carries the ball in practice drills while Nikolas Hansen (left) leads and David Vindiola defends. PHOTO BY ED PIPER
Cole Roberts (8) carries the ball in practice drills while Nikolas Hansen (left) leads and David Vindiola defends. PHOTO BY ED PIPER
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Cody Bradley is a walking advertisement for Junior Pee Wee Pop Warner football. The 11-year-old, all 74 pounds of him, is enthusiastic, he’s enjoying the sport, and he’s outgoing and making friends as a sixth-grader at his new middle school, Muirlands.

Bradley, Gervy Alota, Julian Solis, Cole Roberts and their Torreys teammates won the San Diego Pop Warner championship in their division on Oct. 31, and they’ve relished playoff football, including a narrow win in the regional quarterfinals that qualified them for the semifinals Nov. 14 against the Tustin Gold Cobras at Mission Viejo High School (the Torreys lost, 30-13).

Team members come from the La Jolla, Pacific Beach, UTC and Clairemont areas and range in age from 8 to 11.

“Our season has been going really good because we won and because Coach Scott (Rosecrans) and Coach Gervy (Alota, Gervy Jr.’s dad) have taught me you have to have a good attitude to play football,” says Bradley. “You also have to have good ability to tackle and to run. You also have to have good citizenship. You have to be a good person outside of school.”

Founded in Philadelphia in 1929, Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. was the first youth sports organization in America that required its participants to perform in the classroom before permitting them to play.

Pop Warner, named for Cornell University football captain Glenn Scobey Warner, who became a college coach in the late 19th century, believes that the standards give these children a sense of responsibility and an appreciation for academics and athletics that will help them develop later on in life.

Proof of satisfactory progress in school is required. A 2.0 or 70 percent grade level or the equivalent shall be the minimum average acceptable for participation.

Bradley says the 31 players on the Torreys get along with all the harmony and squabbles of a family. If he has a disagreement with a teammate, he says, “You have to talk to him, or if you don’t like something he’s doing you have to walk away, because you’re not going to get in physical fights.”

Bradley’s parents are Chad and Nacole, and his siblings include Taylor, 19, Kassidy, 16, and Baylee, 13. He stands 4’10” at this point.

Julian Solis, 11, plays offensive guard. He’s a little shell-shocked by the attention a champion Junior Pee Wee team gets, feeling nervous during an interview. His older brother reassures him. Julian, in his third year playing Pop Warner, says, “We just work together as a team. We have fun. We do everything together as a family.”

In response to Rosecrans’ statement that “to a man, everyone on the team has improved,” the Muirlands student says in his case, “Yeah, definitely, a lot, because the coaches have been helping me a lot.”

The Pacific Beach resident likes chocolate ice cream and cheese pizza with no toppings. In school, he enjoys social studies. “It’s fun,” he says. “Our teacher, Mr. (Mark) Heinze, is really cool.”

Dad is Michael. Brothers are Anthony, 31, and Miguel, 12.

Gervy Alota, Jr., 11, is a go-getter as well. In his fourth year in Pop Warner, he has played quarterback from the beginning. “He’s a great kid to coach,” Rosecrans says. “He listens to what you say; he takes instruction; he executes what you ask him to do. He has a very high football I.Q. He’s just a very experienced player with a lot of ability.”

Other 11-year-olds on the Torreys include Rafaello Amato, Sebastian Glausier, Colton Moseley, Michael Padilla, Joseph Shepard, Shawn Steinbock, Bidzina Vetsko, Christopher White and Jevon White.

“The rising tide floats all boats”: That’s a welcome philosophy from any youth football coach and one that Scott Rosecrans subscribes to for all his team members.

It would be easy to load up on star athletes and try to snuff out opponents 26-0 every week by leaving the starters in the whole game, but Rosecrans doesn’t see it that way.

The Junior Pee Wees were leading by that score in the regional quarterfinals against the Yuma Scorpions in the regional quarterfinals, yet Rosecrans and his fellow coaches yanked the starters, and the team ended up squeaking by with a narrow victory after surrendering three touchdowns. That’s an approach almost unheard of in many youth sports and possibly more rare in youth football, a sport often filled with shouting coaches and a few cowering young athletes.

Yet with that approach, from starting quarterback Cole Roberts to the 31st player on the team, Rosecrans asserts that you could see growth in football skills and in personal development in the three to four months since practice began at the end of last summer.

Roberts “is, by far, the smallest player on our team” by weight, Rosecrans says. He’s barely up to the mandatory league weight minimum of 65 pounds, if that (players have to step on a scale before every game for an official weigh-in). But he enjoys playing, and he’s willing to take his coaches’ direction. The encouragement it plants in his teammates? “If this kid, who’s 62 pounds soaking wet, can play like he does, why can’t I?”

“You’d never know he’s the smallest player on the team,” Rosecrans says. “He’s a joy to have around. He’s very coachable. He’s very pleasant. If you ask him to play a position, he will do it. He’s the kid running in to play, even though he’s the smallest player by far on our team. Having a player like that on your team has such an impact.”

The Torreys cut no kids who register for the program, and everyone plays a position on offense and defense. This year’s edition, with Rosecrans in his seventh year of coaching, has built a team atmosphere and friendship from first through third and fourth strings.

“This team isn’t unique in that regard,” Rosecrans says. “This team has a good attitude and good approach. Each player is supportive of each other. You can’t have 31 players and everyone be best friends. But they’ve bought in to the team philosophy.

“Every kid knows their role. They’re all going to have their highs and lows. We try to encourage every player to do their best. Our team, to a man, has gotten better. I wish I could show someone our first day in practice (to now). You see a change in the individual in the short time they’ve been together, three or four months.”

After winning the San Diego championship for Junior Pee Wees on Halloween, the Torreys hung on to beat the Yuma Scorpions in the regional quarterfinals the following week.

After a recent practice one evening at La Jolla Country Day School, Rosecrans addressed an issue away from the playing field. It was refreshing for a reporter to hear, in the firm yet listenable tone of voice in which it was presented, the head coach reminding the boys about their need to behave in venues other than the gridiron.

Rosecrans says one of the reasons he coaches, though he doesn’t have a son on the team, is because he’d rather implement his philosophy and his methods than have approaches he doesn’t agree with carried out. A volunteer away from his job in the San Diego County Environmental Health Department, he says he wants a young person to have an enjoyable experience in playing the sport. At least one other coach for the Junior Pee Wees is a volunteer who doesn’t have a boy on the team.

“Maybe a player will have a coach they can relate to and can have a good experience,” says Rosecrans. “I’ve seen kids who have a bad experience and they never connect with the sport. They leave. I want them to be multi-sport athletes. I want them to do well in school. I want them to be a good citizen. If one of our kids got a college scholarship, that would be an anomaly.”

He says he enjoys the relationships he builds with the players. Former players who have gone on to high school and college visit and touch base. “It’s just neat to see the maturation rate of kids up to the high school level,” he says. “I even have kids who come back to visit in college.”

Rosecrans says he and his fellow coaches are “very aware” of parents’ concerns over concussions and other injuries in football. But he makes the case that in youth football there are fewer injuries due to the low impact that young players are able to generate compared to older athletes. By playing youth football, he adds, athletes learn techniques that help them develop better skills if they continue on in football, and injuries are thereby reduced.

“In all honesty, we have had very few injuries this year,” says the head coach. “We have had more injuries away from the football field. We’ve had kids hurt on their bike. We’ve had kids hurt at the beach. We’ve really only had two injuries of significance this season.”

“That’s one thing about youth football,” Rosecrans continues. “Parents will hold their child out as a youth, then let them play in high school.” First learning football skills in the ninth grade, he says, is a surefire way to have them fail. The learning curve is too high, with teammates having already played the sport for several years, besides the injury issue.

“If you look at some of the kids in high school football, they’re really big,” Rosecrans says. “The impact forces are a fraction of what you get at the high school level. Pee Wee players don’t generate the force that players do in high school.”

Says Rosecrans, “We have kids get hurt more by falling. The impact force is so much less at the youth level. You have parents saying, ‘I’m not going to let my child play football until high school.’ They’re setting them up for a rough situation. You have freshmen now who can run a sub-5-second 40 (yard dash).”

Another point Rosecrans states in support of youth football: “At the high school level, you don’t have that many coaches. We have one coach for every six kids, so we get a lot more time to work with them.”
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