Originally created 10/07/04

Pop Warner ball begins to crackle

Leroy Craig never thought starting a youth football program would be so tough.

"It's a headache really, but it's for the kids," he said. "It has its good days and bad days, but there are a lot of good days."

Craig used to work for the Columbia County Recreation Department but now devotes himself full time to Georgia's only Pop Warner football, cheer and dance program. Craig, who is president of the local chapter, got to see 10 months of hard work pay off when four of the league's five teams played their first games of the season Wednesday night at Fort Gordon.

After Saturday, all five of the teams will have played at least one contest.

Craig said there are about 100 children (ages 12-15) playing football this year, and he hopes that number increases as he recruits more players throughout this season. Craig is also looking for children who are interested in cheerleader and dance programs that would complement the football program next year.

"We are not trying to take the place of any programs that are already out there," said Emery Williams, who is the education specialist for the local chapter. "We want to take them to a national level."

Pop Warner has a Super Bowl every year at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

One of the reasons Craig and Williams began the local Pop Warner chapter was because of the national program's commitment to academics. Williams, who teaches special education classes and is the defensive coordinator for the football team at Glenn Hills High School, makes sure all the children in the league (football, cheer or dance) achieve and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA. If they don't, they must receive tutoring and get their grades back up before they are allowed to participate again.

Craig said the academic focus and the size and weight restrictions in Pop Warner appeal to parents.

Craig said there used to be a Pop Warner league in Atlanta, but now there is only a league with no size limits, and some parents claimed there was a 6-foot-5, 280-pound 10-year-old playing with kids much smaller than him.

So, Craig is in the process of starting an Atlanta chapter. He will be president and has already chosen a board of directors made up of people from the Atlanta area.

Parents can already sign up their children for next season, which will get the academic certification process started. For more information about Pop Warner and the local chapter, go to www.popwarner.com.

TENNIS: The following teams won their divisions during the CSRATA USTA League Tennis fall season: Spangler (6.0), Terminators (7.0) and Bass 2 (9.0) in adult mixed; and Rae's Creek Netters (7.0) and Youngsters (8.0) in senior mixed. Those teams will play in the state championships next August.

GOLF: Ten-year-old Taylor Ramsey earned her first win on the nationally ranked United States Junior Golf Tour. Taylor shot 41-41 Sept. 25-26 at the Pickwick Open in Tennessee to win the girls 8-11 division.

Taylor's younger sister, Ashlan, finished fourth (53-59) in the same division.

Reach Kristy Shonka at (706) 823-3216 or kristy.shonka@augustachronicle.com.


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