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North Pop Warner starts fall season

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Aug 6, 2021

The recent success of the North Fort Myers Pop Warner football and cheer program has meant if you want your kids to participate, you had better get them signed up early.

For football, unless you’re 6 and under, there is no room left. All 35 roster positions are filled up at the 8U, 10U 12U and 14U levels while all 26 have filled up at 6U.

The cheer program is also at levels they haven’t had in years. After having only 70 last year, there are more than 100 this fall throughout their five teams.

Steve Brown, athletic director of the Pop Warner program, said the fact that three teams (10U, 12U and 14U) won the Peace River Conference championship and went deep into the regional playoffs has made people want to play here. It’s finding quality coaches that’s the problem.

“There’s a huge influx of people who want to play here. We have a waiting list for all five teams,” Brown said. “Last June we had 70 kids signed up. This June we had everyone signed up. A lot of people wanted to play here because of our success. We’re among the oldest programs in Lee County.”

However, this success and participation has created a unique problem for the program, one that could spill over to the start of the season.

Not enough helmets. The association had to retire more than 130 helmets that had reached their lifespan of eight to 10 years, as required by the rules.

They got a bunch of helmets this week, and they are white. The pandemic resulted in a shortage of red resin, which is what makes the helmets of the Red Knights, well, red.

The pandemic also resulted in a shortage of helmets themselves. Brown said the helmets are supposed to be here by Monday, something the manufacturer has been saying for months.

If they don’t come by the time Jamboree arrives next week, players may have to share helmets.

In the meantime, the kids have been conditioning without pads or helmets. They have been given a break by Mother Nature as everyone was able to engage in full practices the first four days, the first time that’s happened in five years.

There will be five cheer squads this year, on all levels but junior varsity. Those who were supposed to be on JV this year were moved to varsity. Since there are only five football teams, that works out well.

“It’s hard when you run a youth sports organization to find quality coaches. If we could have found one more cheer coach, we could have had another 25 to 30 cheerleaders, but we didn’t feel comfortable with the candidates we had,” Brown said.

Kari Hardwick, assistant cheer coordinator, said things are going great the first few days, but she knows that the real competition comes in October, when they take to the mat.

“We use the time on the sidelines to prepare for October. We make sure we have our motions down pat and that the girls know their formations,” Hardwick said. “We sometimes do part of our routine, but we are there to support the guys during their season before we start ours.”