Tackling, and blocking are the fundamentals of football and the West Seattle Junior football team is learning the basics as they prepare for the fall season.
West Seattle Junior Football and Cheer plans on winning more than football games
By Jeremy Martin
It’s not always easy to forecast the weather in Seattle, but for the past six years it’s been a cinch figuring out when fall begins.
Every weekday evening in August, like clockwork, a few hundred eager kids take to the gridiron at Hiawatha Playfield in the Admiral Junction and spend a couple hours learning the nuances of playing football.
From passing and catching to three point stances, route running and most importantly safety, the proper techniques of America’s most popular game are drilled in to area youngsters by a team of dedicated, caring and knowledgeable coaches.
During a recent practice around 130 kids, all under 14 and coming from every social and economic background West Seattle has to offer worked together, setting aside any off field differences to learn the game that they love.
One thing however was different on this evening, something was new, something rather small, but highly noticeable.
“This year we are providing a smaller division for seven and six year olds,” coach Joel Gaither said.
Gaither who coaches the "Bantams," a team made up of 11-13 year olds, has been with the Wildcat program since its inception in 2007.
Wildcat football, officially known as West Seattle Junior Football and Cheer is part of the Northwest Junior Football League, an affiliation of 75 teams representing 13 Seattle area organizations.
The NJFL allows organizations to enter teams in any or all of its six age and weight restricted divisions; beginning with the "76ers" made up of the youngest kids all the way up to "Seniors" made up of middle school players not older than 14.
“The league is pretty cool in that everybody plays; whether you’re good or bad you have to play a minimum number of plays. The league we had come from (when we started) wasn’t that way. The better kids got better and the not so good kids got left behind. We really like this new league we joined,” Gaither said.
But Wildcat football isn’t only about sports; it’s also about giving back to the community, team building and education.
And that education extends far beyond the gridiron as at the beginning of each season coaches give their players a contract, one in which they have to sign and hand to their teachers at school stating that they promise to put school work ahead of sports.
“It says ‘I promise to work as hard in class as I am on the field, if I’m not working hard in school tell my coach.’ If a teacher contacts us, we’ll sit the player down during practice and they’ll read their book or do whatever they have to do instead of practicing,” Gaither said.
Six years ago David Hohimer and Deshawn Carter were seeking an extracurricular program that would help area kids stay out of trouble and improve themselves as people and as future contributing members of the community.
Knowing the team building and confidence boosting qualities of an organized sport like football, the duo jumped at the chance to start the neighborhoods only organized football program.
“We wanted a program that would be good for at risk kids, we’re that program. We’re affordable, we go out and find sponsorship,” Hohimer said.
What they have built is a program that brings hundreds of kids together each fall, and not only teaches them about football and life, but allows the older players to become the teachers and gives the younger kids role models to look up to.
“The best way to learn anything is to teach it. As coaches it’s paramount that we get the best training we can and teach it to our players who will in turn teach it to the younger kids,” Deshawn Carter, whose brother Willie is the head coach of the Wildcat 76ers said.
Of course, as with every sport, there is always the risk of injury and Wildcat coaches are using their expertise to inform young players of the risks of the game while also teaching them how best to avoid senseless injuries by playing the game the right way.
“There’s more risk with kids at home doing horseplay than there is in organized youth football, in little league youth football, if you teach them up well this can be a great sport to teach kids confidence and independence. It gives kids an outlet for aggressiveness in a safe, structured environment,” Hohimer said.
Willie Carter agreed, stating that the earlier the coaches are able to instill proper techniques in the kids and to build their confidence on the field and in real life, the safer the game will become.
“The younger you can teach them, then they grow up and change the culture of the hitting. It starts at a younger level in a program like ours that teaches safety and rules,” Willie Carter said. “It’s not all about the x’s and o’s, it’s about relating to them and encouraging them and motivating them.”
Which is one of the reasons the organization introduced Teacher Appreciation Day; a day when the student/athletes can invite their teachers to come out to a game and see the progress the youngsters have been making.
This year’s game will take place Sept. 28 at West Seattle Stadium.
“We’re having sponsors there, were making it a really big event. We want to give back to the community,” Hohimer said.
Other community building events the program will be hosting include a Sept. 8 pancake breakfast at the Alki Masonic Lodge and a Sept. 22 Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament at Heartland Café which will raise money for Wildcat football and cheer.
Without (these events) we can’t keep offering the low rate that we do, and give the scholarships to the kids that can’t afford to play,” Deshawn Carter said.
This season’s home games will take place on Sept. 7, 14 and 28 with the first two being played at Hiawatha and the final home game taking place at West Seattle Stadium for Teacher Appreciation Day.
For more information on West Seattle Junior Football and Cheer or to sign up as a program sponsor please visit the website at http://westseattlejrfootball.com
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