Pop Warner program continues to get better

Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2002

To put it in football terms, Kenai Peninsula Pop Warner Football isn't about the big play. The association is more about 3 yards and a cloud of dust.

Started in 1997, the association has made it a point to make little improvements year after year with the aim of putting together a pretty impressive overall drive.

This year is no exception. According to board member Elaina Spraker, improvements made this year were in scheduling, refereeing and a push toward more volunteer support. Pop Warner put the wraps on the 2002 season on Oct. 13.

Probably the biggest difference this year was with scheduling. Last spring, Spraker sat down with Anchorage Pop Warner and coordinated the schedules of the two associations.

This meant the seven Pop Warner teams from the peninsula had unprecedented opportunities to play against the six separate Pop Warner divisions in Anchorage. From there, the teams with the best records went into a playoff format.

Teams this year still played the same amount of games as in past years, the difference was in competition.

"In the past, the schedules could be kind of funky," Spraker said. "Last year, my son's team played Kenai four times.

"Those teams matched up pretty well, so it wasn't that bad. But when you had mismatches occurring four times a season, it got kind of old."

Spraker said the new schedule was a success and would be done again in the future. Anchorage teams liked coming to the peninsula because of the upgrade in quality of fields.

"We've got great refs and the best fields," Spraker said. "You should see what they're playing on in Anchorage. It's sad."

Anchorage teams play some of their regular season home games on soccer fields. Meanwhile, central peninsula teams play their home games on the high school stadium fields of Skyview, Soldotna and Kenai.

Kenai Peninsula Pop Warner Football also has worked to continuously upgrade its referees. Now, all referees are from the Kenai Peninsula Referees Association, the same people that work high school games. Upper division games have four referees on the field.

Kenai Peninsula Pop Warner pushed a number of its teams through to the playoffs, but only the Soldotna Saints made it to the championship game. The Saints are a Mitey Mite team, which is for players 7 to 9 years old.

The Saints came into the playoffs as the fourth seed, and knocked off the top seed in their first game. The Saints then lost in the state championship, played Oct. 13 in Anchorage.

Spraker is optimistic that things will keep getting better for Pop Warner on the peninsula. This year, there were seven teams on the central peninsula with a total of 150 kids. This is up from the 95 kids that were in the program in 1997, but down from the 200 kids the program had last year.

Regardless, keeping 150 kids playing football requires a significant time investment.

"This year, we had five people running the whole program," Spraker said. "It was like a part-time job."

In order to avoid such a big workload in the future, there was a parents' meeting a month ago.

"We said, 'If you want this program to continue to be successful, you have to step up and start volunteering.' We've had quite a few parents come forward since then."

Board president Doug Jung and vice president Brain Dawkins resigned, but new board members Doug Munn, Amy Bowen and Christy Hughes have come on to take their place. Those three join veteran board members Helen Aye, DeeDee Fowler and Spraker.

Spraker said with the quality of the parents in the program, things should only get better.

"We had more than one incidence of parent or coaches from Anchorage misbehaving," Spraker said. "Our parents down here know how to act, and our coaches are awesome.

"An Anchorage referee came up to me after one of the games and said, 'You know, that's what I like about playing peninsula teams. You guys know how to act.'"

Spraker said the major thing that more volunteers should allow the organization to do is seek more donations, like the $5,000 the Elks Club gave Pop Warner this year.

"We just didn't have the manpower to go out and seek donations this year," Fowler said. "I know there are companies and organizations that would love to give money, but we haven't reached them as of yet."

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