YOUTH FOOTBALL: Jr. Miners, Jr. Bruins seek players for upcoming season
On a hot July afternoon in Nevada County, dozens of young football players strapped on helmets and went to work.
Looking like life-sized bobble-head dolls, the next generation of foothill footballers were out on the lower fields at Nevada Union High School this past week running drills and learning the basics at a youth football skills camp. It was a non-contact skills camp and helmets were the only piece of equipment being worn. The actual youth football season gets started Monday with team practices. The first games are scheduled for late August.
As the Nevada Union Jr. Miners Youth Football and Cheer program is about to dig into yet another season, it is once again starting the year with low participation numbers at certain levels.
“A lot of people are afraid of it,” Jr. Miners President Sarah Hooper said. “I would encourage those people to come out and see that it’s really not that scary. The kids are having fun, they’re doing it the right way, we have all the safety equipment out here, but they are also learning a lot more than just football. They are learning about teamwork and respect and camaraderie.”
The Jr. Miners are a feeder program for the Nevada Union High School football teams, but it goes far beyond just preparing kids to play at the next level. The program teaches young athletes a plethora of life lessons beyond X’s and O’s and prepares them to be successful on and off the field, said Nick McFall, a 2015 Nevada Union graduate who now coaches the Jr. Miners 12-and-under team.
“I started out in the Jr. Miner program when I was in eighth grade,” McFall said. “… It changed my life. Changed my character and how I do everything. Football has made me more respectful and really shaped me as a person.”
In recent years, the program has experienced below average participation numbers, and this year is no different, especially in the 14-and-under division where they are expecting around 15 kids when practices start Monday.
“With football nowadays, there’s a stigma to it,” Jr. Miners Vice President and assistant coach for the 14U team Justin Morgan said. “There are parents that think it’s an injury prone sport right off the bat and they couldn’t be more wrong. I think the safety precautions and instructional training we put our coaches through and the concussion protocols, we’re extremely safe and extremely proactive in preventative safety. We are constantly teaching kids how to hit and how to take a hit.”
The Jr. Miners 12U, 10U and 8U teams are all expected to have at least 20 players for the upcoming season, said Hooper.
The Bear River Jr. Bruins are in a similar situation as they are struggling to field an 8U team and are expecting around 15 players for their 14U team. The 10U and 12U teams have around 20 players each, said Jr. Bruins President and 8U coach Wayne Watkins.
Watkins said he thinks the low numbers are due to a combination of things ranging from a lack of knowledge about the program to the fear of injury to the emergence of more year-round sports.
Watkins added that youth football had a profound impact on his life.
“Growing up I didn’t have a father. Football was my outlet, and I think it gave me the mental toughness I needed,” he said. “I was in the Navy and I became a search and rescue swimmer and I probably wouldn’t have passed that course in the Navy if I didn’t have that background in football.”
He added, football is sport that calls for accountibility unlike any other.
“I think football offers something other sports don’t,” he said. “If you mess up, your buddy gets hit. It teaches you life lessons and it teaches you teamwork.”
The Jr. Miners and the Jr. Bruins are both members of Sacramento Youth Football, but play in different divisions. Last year both programs had their 14U teams make the playoffs with the Jr. Bruins going on to win the Division III championship.
Both programs are urging local youth to give football a chance, have extended their registration period and are offering scholarships for those interested.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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