It 146 s alive Guilderland Pop Warner healthy and strong

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland Pop Warner Football League is alive and well.

This, according to league President Dennis Sheehan, is one of the strongest turnouts for players at most levels of the league.
"The league continues to grow," Sheehan said during the second week of practice for the league. "We have over 200 football players with the majority of them at the younger levels. We have over 60 kids playing flag at the entry level and 50 kids playing Mighty Mite, which is our entry level for tackle. This is the first time ever that we have two teams at that level. We have a lot of kids at the younger levels and that shows that the program is strong."

Guilderland Pop Warner is part of the Capital District Pop Warner League, which is part of the national governing body, the Pop Warner Little Scholars League.

Six levels

There are six levels within the Pop Warner league, each set up for age levels with weight also being a determining factor.

Flag is for the youngest kids, ages 5, 6, and 7, and there is no weight requirement. Mighty Mite is from players ages 7 to 9 with a 45- to 90-pound weight limit.

Guilderland has a lot of participants in those two age groups.
"We had to go out and buy more equipment," Sheehan said. "We were lacking in shoulder pads. We’ve never had so many kids play."

Junior Pee Wee is the next level. Players range from ages 8 to 10, with weight between 60 and 105 pounds.

The Pee Wee level is open to players ages 9 to 11 in the 75- to 120-pound range.

Junior Midget is open to players ages 10 to 12 with players 85 pounds to 135 pounds. Midget is for the oldest players, ages 11 to 14, weighing from 105 to 160 pounds.

There are also lighter designations in the upper levels. For example, a 15-year-old could play in the Midgets if he weighs between 105 and 140 pounds.

There are also about 130 cheerleaders for all the different levels.
"They range from ages 5 to 13," cheer coordinator Laura Tubbs said. "We have a total of seven different teams. This is my first year in charge of it and there are many different things going on."

Among those many different things are Family Fun Night on Aug. 23.

There will also be a Pop Warner Challenger League game on Aug. 17. The Challenger League is for players with disabilities and has about 60 participants from different leagues in the Capital District.

Vibrant volunteers

To support all these players, Guilderland Pop Warner relies on the help of many volunteers.
"We had a lot of experienced coaches come back," Sheehan said. "That’s a positive thing. That’s a good indicator of the program, when we get those guys back. We have a couple of coaches like [Midget coach] Mike Cahill, who is our senior coach, who don’t have kids in the program, but they continue to come out."

Football coordinator Dennis Carman said a lot of coaches have moved up from being an assistant in previous years to take over as a head coach.
"A lot of them have been working with head coaches over the years and have been in the association for years," Carman said. "We work very hard to support our coaches."

Sheehan and others hope that more kids continue to come out, even though the season is in its second week.
"The number of kids we have is not too bad for this time of year," Carman said. "We hope to have more by the end of the month. We have some good teams. I’m looking forward to the season starting."

Most of the levels have plenty of players. The Junior Midget is the only level that is struggling to get enough players to come out.

Training for high school

The Pop Warner league is also continuing its work with the coaches at Guilderland High School and the modified team at Farnsworth Middle School.
"Whether a kid plays modified or Pop Warner," Sheehan said, "we want to run the same stuff. There is a lot we teach kids like how to tackle. We want to teach it how Coach [Dan] Penna wants it done.
"We’re trying to work it all in as Guilderland football," Sheehan added, "Modified is great and if a kid decides to play Pop Warner, great. One thing that is happening is that we’ve had coaches’ meetings with the high school and modified coaches. And they talk football and how to play it at a high level and the philosophy of the high school. We want to mirror them the best we can."

Guilderland Pop Warner teams have had success in recent years.
"We had a team that lost on the last play of the Super Bowl last year and most of them are back," Sheehan said. "We also have a strong Midget team. They have a big line and are fast. All the ingredients are there and that generally translates."

Sheehan added that the Junior Pee Wee and the Mighty Mites teams also have a lot of talent.

"Scholastics comes first"

But education is the number-one priority for the Pop Warner league.
"Scholastics come first before football," Carman said. "We also want the players to have a good code of conduct. We want our players to learn how to work together as a team. We want them to play as a team; we always strive for that."

Carman said what shows the strength of the program is that many players return from previous years and come up through the different levels.
"We have a lot of kids come back until they can’t play any more," Carman said. "It shows that we are doing something right when we have a lot of kids come back to play for us.
"We want to have a nice healthy season," Carman said. "I like to see us be successful, but the main objective is for the kids to do well in school and to listen to their coaches and to learn what they are taught."

Sheehan said that the cheer program is strong though the numbers are slightly lower than in years past.
"The good news about that is that, in the past, we’ve had 35 kids on a team and this year we have teams that have 20 to 25 kids. The coaches can do more teaching."

Not only do the cheer teams go to the games, they also compete in competitions in the Capital District where they have had success in the past.
"We always have a team advance to regionals and beyond," Sheehan said. "We always have a team go to states."

Older levels of the cheer program also work with Patty Palmer and the other high school coaches.
"We work on what is required by the high school coaches," Tubbs said. "We have a lot of girls that cheer in the off-season for all-star squads. They work on a lot of technical skills and a lot of tumbling and introduce some stunting. There are a lot of hard-working individuals involved."

Sheehan, who used to be vice president, said that it is a good year to switch roles with former president Emilio Genzano.
"From my perspective, this is great," Sheehan said. "We’re lucky we have a lot of the same coaches back. And Emilio stayed on as vice president. We switched jobs, and he is very supportive of the organization.
"We have Michelle Coons as our fund-raising coordinator," he added. "We got the pavilion [at the Nott Road facility] going to make it comfortable for our fans and parents. We want to do more, like get a scoreboard."
Sheehan has one more thing to state: "The overall message I want to send about Guilderland Pop Warner is that we are healthy and we’ll continue to get stronger."

Editor’s note: Sportswriter Tim Matteson is an assistant Pop Warner coach.

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