Both Sagebrush Empire Pop Warner and the Sierra Youth Football League opened practice last week in preparation for the fall season. With around 2,500 kids representing the various locations of the Sagebrush Empire, including Reno, Fallon, Carson City, Douglas and not North and South Tahoe, there will be plenty of hitting taking place throughout Northern Nevada.
For the Sparks Pop Warner division, numbers have stayed steady in comparison to past years with close to 500 kids strapping on the pads and helmets.
While numbers have remained consistent, Sparks Pop Warner President Brian Thrailkill said the league is continuing to try to find ways to fund the necessities.
“Honestly the hardest part is trying to make sure we have enough money. It fluctuates for what we need as far as equipment and stuff like that,” Thrailkill said. “It can range from $105,000 and $117,000 a year to run this league. It comes down to league fees, registrations, fundraising and raffles, all of it helps. You want to keep things balanced. You want to keep them coming but you still want to make a little bit so you can afford some of the stuff. It’s tough and it’s getting harder.”
Despite the struggles, the focus for the kids remains on the field. Now, with the first practice out of the way, all that is left is the countdown to kickoff. For Thrailkill, it’s an exciting time of year.
“This stuff is fun,” Thrailkill said. “We start with 5-year-olds and we go up to 15-year-olds. Just watching them grow, it’s amazing. Just being able to watch them change and grow into young men is pretty incredible. Being able to be a part of that for 500 kids, by influencing them and giving them a good place to be, it’s huge.”
Thrailkill said that part of the reason the game of football is such an influence is because it is a life lesson in and of itself.
“The number one thing out here is to have fun because it’s not always about winning and losing. You should enjoy what you’re doing and if you don’t enjoy it than it’s probably not the right thing to be doing. That’s the biggest thing,” Thrailkill said.
“The other thing is that we try to teach them the right way to play football. We want them to have discipline and know the right way to play. They’re a part of a team here. It’s not just about one person on the field, it’s about all of us and working together. We want to teach them how to make that happen and grow from it because that’s stuff they’ll use in life.”
The positive impact on the kids has a lot do with the attitude of their coaches.
“If the coaches stay upbeat, whether they’re getting beat or not, the kids are going to feed off of the coach,” Thrailkill said. “If the coaches stay upbeat, the kids will be upbeat. The kids never hang their head because we teach them it’s OK as long as they did their best. They’re learning and they’re playing right and that’s what matters.
“It’s about all of these kids. It’s about giving them a place to go and teaching them something valuable. Whether it’s football, baseball, soccer, it doesn’t matter, youth sports are very important in a kid growing up. It teaches them a lot. It’s very important. If people aren’t willing to help and contribute to that and give their time, we may not be here. That’s why I do it. To see them make a big hit or catching the ball for the first time or scoring a touchdown, it’s awesome. It’s to watch these guys grow, seeing them go from looking like little bobbleheads out there to being young men.”