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Pop Warner Challengers Light Up the Scoreboard!

by Bob Field, Jr.- Monday, December 11, 2013
"Be The Dream!" - Livin' The Super Bowl Spirit

by Bob Field, Jr.- Wednesday, December 11, 2013
At the start of each new season, just about everyone who participates in Pop Warner football, cheer and dance has big dreams...You know, "having a great season, advancing to regionals, making it all the way to Disney."

Wow! Talk about big dreams. And, why not? For some, those dreams will actually become a reality. But, what happens if and when you're really good, and fortunate enough, to get here? That's when the dream making can take on a whole new dimension.

Throughout all the years that I've been coming to Pop Warner Super Bowls, one thing that never fails to impress me is the way in which so many Pop Warner families embrace their opportunity to "be the dream."

As Pop Warner Executive Director Jon Butler tells coaches every year in their pre-event briefing sessions, "Remember, every team here at the Pop Warner Super Bowl is already a champion. You are all the best-of-the-best. So, first and foremost, have fun here and build positive memories."

For some, those positive memories may come, in good part, through hoisting a national championship trophy. But, more often, a larger measure of the fun and positive memories comes through knowing when no matter what the final tally, no matter what the scoreboard says, you know that you've given your "all", practiced good sportsmanship, respected the rights of others and comported yourselves – as teammates, coaches, and fans- with dignity. Whenever Pop Warner teams and organizations are able to put those values into play, day after day, they have created the life long, positive memory of "being the dream."

And, interestingly enough, I can recall time after time when the words of true champions, people young and old alike, who've learned what it is to "be the dream" at the Pop Warner Super Bowl echo the words of America's great builder of dreams, Walt Disney himself. I'll give you some examples.

"When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably." - Walt Disney

When the Shaker Fire Raiders from Ohio won their Mid-America title game on Tuesday, and with that win advanced to tomorrow's Unlimited Division National Championship game, Shaker Fire's head coach Malcolm Hills reflect on the ability of his guys to "be the dream" in ways that both touched his heart, and echoed the words of Mr. Disney:

"This year, my team, they gave me an opportunity. I had a son who passed away. My team told me they wanted to have pink jerseys in his memory. And, I told them ' Guys, we're gonna go on to the championship this year. The whole time, they kept telling me. 'Coach, we got you, we got you. This is for your son…This is for Snoop.' And, they did it… They went out and they did it…They won. And, now we're in the Unlimited National Championship game.

Yep, "when you believe in a thing, believe it all the way". That's part of learning to "be the dream."

Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. – Walt Disney

Flashback to in 2007 at the 51st Pop Warner Super Bowl. I recall walking through the tunnel at the HP Arena and talking with three cheer squads waiting for their turn in line to compete for Midget Intermediate Cheer honors. The Colts Neck Cougars (NJ), the North Judson Bluejays (IN) and the Saddleback Valley Cougars (CA) all told me some of their enthusiastic perspectives on this great week. " "We've met so many new people!", "We heard so many accents!", "We shared so many ideas!" "We made so many new friends!" "We had so much FUN, especially at the Pop Warner Hollywood Studio Party Wednesday night! "

Hmmm "having fun, meeting new friends, sharing ideas"… Isn't that what this wonderful week is really all about? And whether they captured national titles or not that day, what really counted is that those squads were here in the first place because of all the hard work they had put into their season, and all the precision that went into their routines. Yep, what was it Mr. Disney said? "Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again…and bring their friends" Those squads I talked with that day at Pop Warner Super Bowl Week "did their thing" so well, and comported themselves so well, that they just naturally met new people, shared new ideas, and best of all…made new friends! Sounds to me like these Pop Warner cheer squads and their coaches knew how to "be the dream."

"All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles have strengthened me."- Walt Disney

At the 49th Pop Warner Super Bowl, I had the pleasure of attending the very first Challenger Division flag football game (now a highlight event at each and very Pop Warner Super Bowl). Even on a day when rain poured down in buckets, not a single spirit was dampened. In fact, the sight of 36 happy kids drenched, smudged, and grinning arm-in-arm after a big afternoon of teamwork and football-fun was one of the most memorable scenes in all my years of attending Pop Warner Nationals. Think these Challenger Division players and their buddies knew how to "be the dream?" You bet they did!

"You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."- Walt Disney

And, now, back to this year's 57th Pop Warner Super Bowl. Among all the great football action I've taken in, I had the pleasure of seeing the Coastal Cowboys Pee Wee team play two spirited games in the D-II championships this week. The boys from the Carolina coast dropped their first game to the Hawaiian Gardens Warriors (CA) 28-0.

Talk about having to deal with a new challenge this season. Losing that game was a real downer. But, prior to their next game, they heard a little story from Coastal quarterback's Chase Nixon's dad Trot Nixon. As you may recall, Trot Nixon was the right fielder for the Boston Red Sox who, after being down to the New York Yankees 3 game to none in the American League Championship Series, never gave up. In fact, they roared back to win the next four games, knocking out the Pinstripes, and then marching through the St. Louis Cardinals to capture Boston's first World Series title in 86 years.

So, what did Trot Nixon tell the Coastal Cowboys before their second game? Chase recalls, " He said 'Never give up. No matter what the score or the odds, never give up.' " I guess the lads from North Carolina heard that message, all right. They won that second game and held their heads up high. Hmm, as Mr. Disney opined, it does seem that sometimes a setback can actually help you to grow.

This week, I'll be sharing a lot more examples of Pop Warner folks of all ages who are learning, just what it means to build positive memories and "be the dream" at the Pop Warner Super Bowl.

Unlimited Bowl - Unlimited Thrills!

by Bob Field, Jr.- Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday afternoon's gridiron card at ESPN Wide World of Spots Complex included big time action from the muscular lads in two regional championship rounds (a.k.a the semi-finals) of Pop Warner's 2013 Unlimited Bowl.

Talk about "even-steven" pairings! The Reading Rockets, the Oakwood Raiders (RI), the Calumet City Thunderbolts and the Shaker Fire Raiders took their games right down to the final seconds, and in one case "OT", before two regional champions emerged for the right to meet in Thursday's Unlimited Bowl National Championship game.

Game # 1 – Reading Rockets (MA) vs. Oakwood Raiders (RI):

The New England Region Unlimited championship game pitted the Reading Rockets (MA) against the Oakwood Raiders (RI) . This game showed early evidence of being a tight defensive struggle.

Then, with the score knotted at 0-0 halfway through the second quarter, the Rockets connected on a beautiful 41 yard pass to their inside receiver for a touchdown. "That was a double wheel play," recalled Rockets Coach David Irwin. "It was originally supposed to go to the outside man, but he was covered. So, our quarterback hit the inside guy and it worked." After that picture-perfect TD pass, a two-point PAT kick was good, and the quick-strike Rockets led 8-0.

Then, with but four seconds left in the first half, the Raiders struck back. As the
Rockets offense tried one last trick play ( a "hook and lateral"), a Raider lineman tipped the ball in air where an alert Oakwood cornerback picked it off and took it to the house on a 54 yard scamper. With no time left, the Raiders booted a two-point PAT and the action-packed first half ended in an 8-8 tie.

The second half emerged as a carbon copy of the first, with both teams struggling to maintain any sort of drive against rock-ribbed defenses. Then, with 3:43 left in the game, the Rockets finally broke through on an amazing, pounding, twisting, spinning 18 yard run by their tailback that ended with him blasting across the Oakwood goal line for the go-ahead touchdown. "Andrew Brockner's a tough runner," Coach Irwin told us. " He has a low center of gravity. He keeps his legs moving and his body twisting and, on that big run, he just wouldn't be denied." Again, the Rockets were successful with a two-point PAT, and the scored moved up to 16-8 Rockets.

But, once again, the courageous Raiders weren't done. After a Raider halfback's pass barely escaped the outstretched fingers of hisr fleet-footed wide-out teammate, Oakwood faced a 4th and 4 and time running out. But, the Raiders' tailback took a pitchout, rolled left and fired out down the sidelines, outracing the Reading secondary for a touchdown, and sending the Raider fans into a wild celebration. Now, it all rested on the PAT attempt. But, after a low snap, the Raider kicker's PAT boot was blocked.

As time ran out, the Rockets had hung on for a narrow 16-14 win and the New England Region championship and a ticket to the Unlimited National Championship game.

Game #2 – Calumet City Thunderbolts (IL) vs. Shaker Fire Raiders (OH)

Amazingly, the second Mid-America Unlimited Division championship game of the day may even have topped that first game thriller for back-and-forth action.

This one matched the Calumet City Thunderbolts (IL) against the Shaker Fire Raiders (OH). The 'Bolts struck first on a 22 yard touchdown scamper with 6:50 to go in the first quarter. The run for a single-point PAT made it 7-0 Calumet.

But, the Raiders sailed back into the fray in the second quarter on on touchdown runs of 15 yards and 12 yards. In both cases the PAT attempts were snuffed by the 'Bolts defense and the score at the half stood Shaker Fire 12- Calumet City 7.

The second half emerged as an all-out shoot-out, with the two teams trading tally-for-tally. The Thunderbolts scored on runs of 46 and 20 yards. The Raiders countered on touchdown passes of 22 and 53 yards.

Then, late in the game, with the 'Bolts clinging to a 25 – 18, Shaker Fire ignited their fans on an electrifying run by tailback Jackson Frazier. Taking a pitch on the Raider 45 yard line and sweeping towards the left sideline, Jackson described what happened from there.

"When I first hit the sideline, I got like ten yards of a run when three dudes with terror in their eyes came right at me out of control. So, I cut back inside and just kept running at a diagonal angle. Their fastest kid was chasing me from behind. One of my guys blocked him out of the way, so I cut back inside. Two more dudes came from the other side, so I cut back away from 'em. Finally, they tackled me, but I dove for as much as I could get."

And, he got plenty… ending a spectacular run on the Bolts 2 yard line. On the next play, Shaker Fire pounded into pay dirt. The single point PAT was good and as regulation time expired, this great game was all tied up at 25-25!

Going to overtime, the Thunderbolts were stopped on four downs, surrendering the ball to the Raiders. With momentum now on their side, Shaker Fire powered through the red zone. On third and goal-to-go, they slammed into the end zone for the winning touchdown. Final score Shaker Fire 31- Calumet 25 in a fantastic Mid-America Unlimited championship game.

Congratulations to all four teams! Shaker Fire now goes on to meet the Reading Rockets in the Pop Warner Ultimate Bowl Championship game Thursday here at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

From Cold-To-Gold!: Celebrating PW's Frigid First

by Bob Field, Jr.- Sunday, December 8, 2013

Watching the final minutes of yesterday's fantastic opening round D-II Jr. Midget game, won by the Gilroy (CA) Browns 28-20 over the gritty Wareham (MA) Tigers.

I couldn't help thinking how lucky the kids and coaches (let alone fans!) were to be facing off in pristine surroundings on a gorgeous gridiron with warm breezes wafting over the whole scene…and all of this on December 8th!

And, as a near "white out" blanketed the Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagle pro game today in Philly, I recalled reading about the very first Pop Warner Championship, played under VERY similar conditions…and far removed from Florida.

In contrast to the warm "gold" of this week's Sunshine State sojourn, that first clash of Pop Warner titans was played in bone-chilling "cold", under eight inches of snow! That's right. Brutal!

The very first Pop Warner Super Bowl was the brainchild of Philadelphia restaurateur and dance band nightclub owner Frank Palumbo. Dubbed "The Santa Claus Bowl", Pop Warner's first showcase game was set to take place December 28th, 1947 at South Philly High School field.

Santa Claus Bowl # 1 was set up as a "national" Midget championship, pitting the "Palumbo Clickets" ( named after Frank Palumbo big dance band club "The Click") against a Pop Warner team from NYC named "Sinatra's Cyclones", sponsored by, you guessed it, "Old Blue Eyes"… the crooner himself, Frank Sinatra.

The Cyclones had planned to motor down to the City of Brotherly Love from Manhattan early on December 28th and make a stop at the Liberty Bell before cruising over to South Philly High for the big game.

Only one problem…On Friday, December 26th, the Northeast was slammed by snow … a record 28 inches of the stuff in Central Park and nearly a foot in Philly! When their charter bus was cancelled due to road conditions, the Cyclones piled on a train. But El Choo Choo got as far as Newark, where it derailed!

Luckily, no one was hurt. Still, the race was now on to get to the game! By 2 P.M., with kickoff time missed, the Santa Claus Bowl was about to be cancelled. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Sinatra's Cyclones arrived… in a fleet of taxicabs!

By then, having seated 3000 folks from a successful advance ticket sale, the Santa Claus Bowl organizers had already issued half of them refunds from a cigar box that impresario Palumbo had stuffed with one-dollar bills.

The frozen fans who stayed (actually about 2,000 of them) saw a rugged defensive struggle played on snow-covered turf . The Clickets tallied once and hung on to win 6-0.

As a reward for their trademark Pop Warner perseverance, both the Clickets and the Cyclones were treated to a big feed that night at Frank Palumbo's restaurant.

On top of that was a huge surprise. A player from each team was selected for an all-expenses-paid trip to the 1948 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans!

The publicity that first Pop Warner championship game received was extraordinary. Area newspapers were all over it. And, Jimmie O'Donnell, the Clicket player lucky enough to attend the Sugar Bowl, saw three of his close-up perspective articles on the New Orleans trip printed in the Philadelphia News.

The "Santa Claus Bowl" game achieved even more fame by becoming the catalyst for a rejuvenated post-WWII interest in Pop Warner and its quality approach to youth sports for young people. Indeed, that first contest in the frigid "cold" was, arguably, a key milepost that has led to the warm "gold" that we all enjoy today with the Pop Warner Super Bowl at the incomparably ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

So, as you enjoy the super-setting, and all the thrills, of youth sports premiere event this week, let's all pause to remember the persistence of a bunch of young pre-"Boomer" trail blazers, and their "cold-to-gold" contribution to the continuing saga of our Pop Warner Super Bowl!

Mitey Mite Bowl 2013- "It's All About 'Fam-i-ly!"

by Bob Field, Jr.- Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mite Mitey Bowl 2013- "It's All About 'Fam-i-ly!"

For the second year in row, this opening Saturday of Pop Warner Super Bowl Week featured the popular Mitey Mite Bowl. With teams from all over the country squaring off in 25 minute running-clock games, the format allowed for each team to play two games in a day, doubling their fun, doubling the experience, and instill lots of incentive to work hard and make it back to ESPN Wide World of Sports in future years with another Pop Warner team.

As the non-stop Mitey Mite action took place on four different fields from early morning to late afternoon, I got a sense of just how much family involvement adds to all the fun.

A great example of that family fun is Randy Rousa's family from High Point, North Carolina. While Randy's son Hunter is # 36 was playing for the green and white of High Point's talented Southwest Jets Mitey Mite squad, Randy was both rooting on Hunter and coaching some terrific cheerleaders pumping up Jets fans along the sideline.

And those girls included Ausrea Baldwin and Chandler McGinnis. Talking to these two spirited young ladies, you can see why Pop Warner Cheer is as much about valuable support for your football team outdoors as it is about cheer competition indoors.

As Chandler told us, " I've been cheering since I was maybe four or five." Now 10 years old, both Chandler and Ausrea have been cheerleading teammates since the start. Chandler says what she likes most about the sport is "being able to cheer on your team and do what you like to do." Ausrea adds, "It's good to be out here and supporting the boys that play for our team. And, it's a good feeling to be here at Disney right now."

Chandler's dad is the head coach of the Southwest Jets. Ausrea echoes Chandler's enthusiasm by adding, " Cheerleading is my life! I just love it so much."

With both Chandler and Ausrea having been cheer teammates now for going-on six years, that Pop Warner family tradition shows great promise of taking these Mitey Mite stalwarts to even greater heights as the seasons go on.

And, get this, the full day of Mitey Mite football was capped by the second annual Mitey Mite Party at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex's Josten Center.

For some great first-hand feedback from coaches and players on all the action and fun of the Pop Warner's second annual Mitey Mite Bowl, and the big party, take a look at our video below.

Welcome Home: 20 Years of Pop Warner at Disney

by Bob Field, Jr.- Saturday, December 7, 2013

If you can dream it, you can do it.” - Walt Disney.

"Home field advantage…Home court advantage." Anybody who follows competitive team sports knows what the good old "home" site advantage is all about. And, here's the thing. Any Pop Warner football team, and any cheer and dance squad, that's worked hard, had the right chemistry, the dedication, the talent, the team dream and the good fortune of "representing" in a Pop Warner National Championship week knows that everyone shares the super-special "home" advantage of being at Walt Disney World and competing at the spectacular ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

So, here we are again, Pop Warner fans! I'm Bob Field, and once more I'll be reporting from a fan's point of view this week in sun-drenched, fabulous Florida at youth sports' premiere event- the Pop Warner Super Bowl.

You know the old expression "time flies when you're having fun!" Well, I can tell you for a fact that in this, my 20th year of blogging and extolling the virtues of this great event, it never gets old…Not when I've had the pleasure of seeing, first-hand, how Pop Warner Little Scholars, with its mission of the providing highest quality sports and academic experience for kids and their families, has thrived in good part through bringing the Pop Warner Super Bowl to this perfect spot…And, not when I've seen how this "home" site advantage for all has worked wonders for everyone in this place of dreams conceived and built by a man who innovated, who took risks, and who made dreams-come-true.

Along with this 20th year of Pop Warner at Walt Disney World, it's also the 57th Annual Pop Warner Super Bowl. And, you guessed it, the Disney vision and commitment to young people has been closely affiliated with Pop Warner Little Scholars all along. That's right, back in 1956, "57" years ago, Walt Disney himself helped to kick-off the first of the Disney/Pop Warner Super Bowls.

In fact, Mr. Disney loved the idea of Pop Warner football & cheer so much that he had the Disney Studios produce a feature film that year called "Moochie of Pop Warner". Rumor has it, you can still see that oldie-but-goody on the Disney Channel from time to time.

Fast-forward to 1993 (Wow! It seems like "only yesterday"), when I first came down to cover my first Pop Warner Super Bowl. That was also the first PWLS Super Bowl hosted by Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista. Back then, ESPN Wide World of Sports wasn't even built yet. But, that didn't take anything away from any of the amazing experience of being here!

Back then, football teams, cheer squads, coaches and families stayed at All-Star Sports,Caribbean Beach and other Disney properties. Football games were played at local high school fields and cheer championships were held at the Indiana Jones Pavilion in the World. And, even then, that special Disney "Welcome Home!" feel was there from the start.

One of my many special memories of that inaugural year was seeing a Pee Wee team from Tom's River, NJ win a national championship at the Pop Warner Super Bowl, with (get this!), five of their team members having just been on the Tom's River team that had won the 1993 Little League World Series. Talk about a Guiness Book of Records!

By the mid '90s, when the dream of a fabulous complex just south of Buena Vista Drive began a reality, Pop Warner Super Bowl Week began to see events that fit Pop Warner and Disney to a tee, events fans will never forget, including "The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!" Talk about détente at its finest and most magical.

Yep, football and cheer squads from Russia trekked all the way across the Pond to what was then Disney Wide World of Sports for competition and fellowship. One of the most heartwarming memories of those visits was seeing the amazing improvement in the Russian cheer squads over their two years at the Pop Warner Super Bowl.

So good was the Russian "JOY" squad by the second year (learning well from their interaction with American squads and cheer coaches), that they performed a near flawless routine, complete with stunts, resulting in a rousing, standing ovation from a jam-packed crowd in the Milk House arena. Even if you came all the way from Vladivostok, you still felt that extra special "home" advantage with Pop Warner and Disney.

Fast-forward to 2005, and we saw and Pop Warner inaugurate its first Challenger Division game; which quickly became one of the great highlights of any Pop Warner Super Bowl Week. The 18 players who took the field that first time at Pop Warner Super Bowl Week were all from East Greenbush Pop Warner – just east of Albany, NY. Everyone of those players had a "buddy" who worked with him, or her, to field two full squads of gung-ho guys and girls for some well organized, all-out fun at one of the best youth football facilities in the country.

"Football for kids with disabilities?" You bet, it was then, and still is, action-packed flag football. Ever since, thanks to Pop Warner and Disney, Challenger Division football has sparked interest in communities large and small all over the country. And, for good reason. " It's all about normalcy," said Peter Pelleschi, father of Roman Pelleschi a five year old wide receiver and defensive back for East Greenbush, that first year. "Challenger football lets kids do things just like other kids, and it does wonders for building their self-esteem"

I can still remember how Roman buddied up with his 9 year old brother Pete, who also played Pop Warner Jr. Pee Wee Division football at the time, to form a one-two punch of sibling-pride that brought a smile to the face, and a tear to the eye, of Peter and Danielle Pelleschi, their proud parents, and all who saw them out there on the green fields of Disney Wide World of Sports . As you can probably guess, each year, many Challenger game "veterans" come back "home" to now ESPN Wide World of Sports, to renew lasting friendships, share new excitement and continue to be a part of that special Pop Warner Super Bowl "home field" tradition.

And, the memories go one and on, including fabulous finishes to great football games so numerous that they deserve a multi-volume history all to their own.

Who can forget the 2011 Super Bowl Week, when the Jupiter Mustangs Jr. Midget team marched down the length of the field and scoring the winning touchdown with no time left last year to win one of the most exciting Pop Warner Super Bowl Week games of all-time. That same week, both the Jupiter Mustang football and cheer squads won national championships…on the same day!

And, I remember special championships built from dreams deferred, then realized. I remember 2006, the year Coach Andre "Jay" Ford's Marshall Heights Bison Midget team from the Washington D.C area captured their first national title. Three years before, Jay's Marshall Heights team had dropped a 7-6 heartbreaker to the Dale City Cowboys for the national title. But, in the 2006 televised Midget D-I title game, they jumped out early on the East Anchorage Eagles and held on to capture the elusive crown with a 24-12 win on Saturday.

As the years go by, memories grow . And, you bond easily with Pop Warner fans, families, and the dedicated coaches and volunteers in this great week at this universal "home" site for all. I can honestly say that I've shared in the tears of joy, laughter, empathy and goodwill that reaches from the sidelines, to the stands, to the many stories that populate every inch of this place of dreams throughout the this amazing complex.

So folks, as I launch into this 20th year of sharing my "Field Notes" perspectives from a fan's point of view, I want to extend my own personal invitation to all of you to put the Pop Warner Super Bowl Week at Walt Disney World and ESPN Wide World of Sports on your "bucket list." Meanwhile, please follow along with me in my entries this magical week.

I think you'll soon see why the "home field/home court" advantage is shared by everyone who, like Walt Disney and Pop Warner Little Scholars, believes in making dreams come true right here at the Pop Warner Super Bowl. "Welcome Home!"- one and all.

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