Youth football program emphasizes respect, discipline, fun   |

Youth football program emphasizes respect, discipline, fun  

A Nevada Union Junior Miner peels around the corner in a homecoming game against Placer Saturday at Hooper Stadium.
John Hart | The Union

With the clock winding down in the second quarter of the Nevada Union football game against Placer, Drake Schlachter took the hand off. The speedy running back bolted around the left corner, beating the defense to the edge and into the end zone.

The homecoming crowd at Hooper Stadium Saturday roared, his teammates and coaches bounced up and down on the sideline with delight, but no points were put on the board.

In fact, no points were put on the board all game.

Drake is a Mighty Mite and a member of the Nevada Union Junior Miners team. The Mighty Mites is a division of youth football reserved for 6- to 8-year olds and puts an emphasis on learning the game rather than recording it.

For head coach Anthony Lang and the fans of the Junior Miner Mighty Mite team, the smile on Drake’s face after tasting the end zone is where the score was recorded.

“With the little guys, we really work on manners and respect,” said Lang, a former NU High School football player. “The first thing we actually worked on in our practice is how to shake hands. We work on sportsmanship. Whether you win or lose, you act the same way. If you make a good tackle, you help the guy up whether he’s on your team or not. This isn’t just about football. This is about life. A lot of these tactics and lessons that you learn in football, you use outside of football.”

On a day where the Junior Miners lost on three out of five levels, these lessons of respect, manners and sportsmanship were obvious in the actions of the young players, cheerleaders and their families.

At the daylong event and through the five games played, not once was there an altercation on or off the field or a taunt thrown from the sideline.

This is what sports are all about. Not just in Nevada County — everywhere.

A community coming together to better its youth through sport.

While winning and losing are a major aspect of sports — and life for that matter — they are not what they are solely about.

At an NU soccer game last week, I encountered some of the worst sportsmanship I had ever seen. The NU players and, even worse, the “adult” fans were engaging the opposing team with poorly thought-out taunts that seemed to have only one purpose — to offend. The verbal jabs weren’t even game related. One “adult” fan was making fun of an opposing player for having red hair. It got so bad that the fan was asked to leave the field for engaging the referee as well as several of the opposing team’s players.

Even though the Miners tied that day, I felt our community lost.

Sports are to be played in effort of achieving a genuine smile. It’s a smile derived from hard work paying off, a smile found only after sweat, tears and blood have been sacrificed. The smile that comes from rubbing someone’s nose in it is fleeting and unsatisfying.

The Junior Miner program exemplifies what sports should be all about.

As a youngster growing up in this community, I played for the Junior Miners, and the friendships I made throughout those years still hold water, as well as the lessons I learned.

The Mighty Mites are the only division of Junior Miner teams that don’t keep score. But the same sentiment about sportsmanship, respect and playing for the fun of it echoes throughout all levels of the program.

Junior Miner President Mark Swasey said the lessons being taught on the football field are paramount to winning and losing.

“Our subject is football and cheer out here, but the reality is we’re teaching life lessons,” Swasey said. “We’re teaching good sportsmanship and good discipline by the kids. And even on a day like today where sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to go, you’re still a team and you win or lose together, so the lessons we are teaching go way beyond the field and way beyond football.”

Former Junior Miner, Miner and current Junior Pee Wee coach Ty Conway said he’s happy to be able to give back to the program that taught him so much.

“It’s huge, having an opportunity to come back and give back to the community,” he said. “There is just something about playing up here in this area that is unlike any other.”

Since Swasey took over a year ago as the head of the program, he has put an emphasis on safety and teaching both the playbook and how to be a good member of society. The lessons imparted on the 200-plus football players and cheerleaders is one of social and personal responsibility.

“The Junior Miners always want to be a part of this community in anything we can do,” Swasey said. “From walking in parades to clean up for the soap box derby or supporting the Sportsman Club, we want to be a part of the community.”

The 2012 season has concluded for most of the Junior Miner teams, as only the Mighty Mites are headed for the post season, but that hasn’t stopped the program from contributing. The Junior Miners will host four first-round playoff games Saturday at Hooper Stadium.

The Mighty Mites will compete in the Mighty Mite Bowl this Saturday at Del Oro High School.

The Junior Miner program will also be hosting a major camp coming in July of 2013 that will emphasize the Wing-T offense, defense and special teams.

The Junior Miner program has been a staple in our community for decades. It has had its ups and downs, but right now, it’s up and offering a place where kids can grow into productive adults.

To contact Sports Writer Walter Ford, call (530) 477-4232 or email him at

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