Football as it should be played
Football. It’s not a complicated game. One team gets the ball and tries to deliver it across the goal line. There is blocking, tackling, running, passing, catching and kicking.
There are positions for most anyone — 11 at a time. There are referees to help make it fair. Spectators are encouraged to express themselves and cheerleaders rally the fans.
In light of big money at the college level and the politics taking over the pro sport, it’s wise to revisit two facts: 1) Football is a game. 2) Games are best when played by kids.
A Saturday spent observing Scripps Ranch Pop Warner football is enough to revive any fan’s enthusiasm for the sport. Then, spend a few minutes talking about football with Kari Sullivan and you are guaranteed to be re-energized about the sport and its future. Sullivan, direct and well-spoken, is the president of the Scripps Ranch Pop Warner Football and Cheer Association.
“We feel this builds character. We feel like it builds teamwork,” Sullivan explained. “Every Friday is Falcons Spirit Day. Our boys and girls will show up in their Falcons wear to school, no matter what school … We tell them all that when you are wearing your uniform, you are representing your whole community. Character is key. If you are a bad character off the field, you won’t play on the field. We just really feel like we’re building good humans and, along the way, we’re trying to build some good football players.”
Call her a football mom or a football matriarch, but make no mistake, she knows football. She is the mother of four children who are all involved in Scripps Ranch Pop Warner and her family has participated for several years. Her oldest son, now 16, started in flag football at the age of 5. Now, he has returned as a coach trainee with the Mighty Mites team. One of her sons plays on the flag football team and the other is on the Mighty Mites. Her daughter is a cheerleader at the JV level.
As president, Sullivan is in charge of an organization with lots of moving parts. Last Saturday, the association hosted four games of tackle football at Scripps Ranch High School against Murrieta Valley Pop Warner teams. Timers and officials staffed the box at the top of the stadium. Coaches gathered their players for strategy sessions and pep talks. Teams warmed up on the field. Cheerleaders practiced behind the sidelines. Volunteers ran the concession stand and the Falcon wear table. Sullivan was busy keeping things organized and running on schedule.
The Scripps Ranch Pop Warner Football and Cheer Association is active year-round, according to Sullivan. It begins publicizing player registration for the program in March, and it accepts players until the first day of the season, Aug. 1, although early registration is encouraged.
Scripps Ranch Pop Warner has five football teams: one flag team, and four tackle teams.
Players eligible for tackle are placed on teams based on their age and weight. Teams are divided in increments of about three year spans. Boys ages 5, 6 and 7 can play on the flag football team. The youngest tackle team accepts boys ages 7, 8 and 9. There are minimum and maximum weight levels for safety reasons.
Up to 35 players will be accepted to each team. If more players apply for one team level, the organization will build another team, Sullivan said.
In addition, Scripps Ranch Pop Warner offers a cheerleading program for girls, and the teams are divided by age. There is a team of Flag and Mighty Might cheerleaders, Junior Pee Wee cheerleaders and a JV cheer team. The older teams enter competitions, with the possibility of moving on to regional competition and ultimately the Pop Warner National Cheer & Dance Championships.
Children who reside in the Scripps Ranch 92131 ZIP Code area are automatically eligible to join Scripps Ranch Pop Warner, but the organization will accept others who do not live where an active Pop Warner group is available. For example, children in the Stonebridge area are accepted in the Scripps Ranch Pop Warner Program.
Scripps Ranch Pop Warner is in the Palomar Conference and, while the teams play home games at Scripps Ranch High School, they also travel to away games at locations such as Murrieta, Fallbrook, Oceanside, Carlsbad and Torrey Pines.
The teams play on Saturdays in the fall, but not always at the same location at once. As the tackle teams played at home last Saturday, the flag football team played at Rancho Bernardo. Opponents are now being matched according to skill levels, according to Sullivan. If a team is really good, it will be scheduled to play other teams at the same skill level.
Scripps Ranch Pop Warner produces football games much the same as any high school or college team might, all the way from four paid referees for each game to a paid emergency medical technician always being on the sideline.
“We’re safety first,” Sullivan said. “Everything we do, from our coaching certifications to having an EMT always at our field on the game days to checking all the equipment beforehand and making sure that all the kids are healthy and ready to play, is all about safety.”
Teamwork, sportsmanship, character and safety are important aspects of Scripps Ranch Pop Warner Football and Cheer Association. But have no doubt, Sullivan keeps her eye on building youngsters into skilled football players who will one day play at a high level for the Scripps Ranch High School Falcons.
“We honor our relationship with our high school. One of our former coaches is now the Scripps Ranch High School head coach (coach Marlon Gardinera) and building that relationship is really important. We’re trying to build future Falcons,” she said. “The high school has been really good with sharing coaching techniques and styles with us so that there’s continuity between our kids so that when they go into high school it’s not such a shock. So, we’re really trying to keep them all in that and build that pipeline to the high school.”