Sagebrush Empire Pop Warner has about 2,500 kids participating throughout the league, which has teams from Reno, Sparks, Fallon, North Tahoe, South Tahoe, Carson City and Douglas.
Participation in Pop Warner has increased this year. Sparks, specifically, had 519 kids sign up to play, which is also an increase in the Rail City from last year.
“Football is the greatest sport out there for one. And Pop Warner is where every kid dreams of playing in the NFL,” Sagebrush Empire Pop Warner President and Sparks Pop Warner 2nd Vice President Robert Bates said. “I did when I played and my kids do now that they’re playing. Pop Warner is where the NFL players played.
“Football is a life lesson game. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you’re stronger, bigger and faster, and sometimes you’re not. Ultimately, it’s about building friendships and camaraderie. There are still people I talk to that I played with in Pop Warner in 1980, even though we haven‘t had any other contact outside of Pop Warner since that time.”
Bates feels that part of the reason Pop Warner’s numbers are up is because families have less disposable income, so instead of taking trips, they are finding ways to stay busy locally.
The SYFL is more centered on the Reno-Sparks area. SYFL teams have a connection with most of the local high schools. Teams at each age group will wear the jerseys of the high school they represent and play games on those high school fields when they’re available.
Spanish Springs, Reed, Sparks, Damonte Ranch, North Valleys, Galena, Hug, Reno, Wooster, McQueen and Carson all host SYFL games. Outlying areas such as Lassen, Truckee, Fernley, Fallon, Fallon, Dayton, Bishop and Yerington also have representation in the SYFL.
Because the SYFL is a local organization, there is no national championship like in Pop Warner. However, the SYFL is trying to finalize Cal-Nevada Championship games in some divisions for November Nov. 19, but details have not been announced.
Pop Warner has regional and national tournaments, and Sparks teams have been fairly successful on those stages recently.
In the past, Pop Warner had its reputation sullied when coaches would smoke on the sidelines and use overly aggressive coaching styles that weren’t suitable for young children. Bates says those days are behind Pop Warner.
“We’re about building life lessons and helping young men and women grow up to be productive members of society,” Bates said. “We’re the only youth organization nationwide that concentrates as much on scholastics as we do playing the game.”
The SYFL is similar in that it adheres to a “no pass, no play” policy. Grades are checked during Week 4 of the season and before the playoffs in football and competition for cheerleading. Game action is scheduled to begin Aug. 27 for the SYFL and will continue weekly through Oct. 22. Playoffs begin the week after the end of the regular season with the championships on Nov. 12.
The two leagues are pretty similar, but a big difference between the two leagues is history. Pop Warner football has been around for over 80 years, allowing generations of families to follow in the footsteps of the previous generations, while the SYFL is a fairly new entity.
That’s one of the big reasons Bates, who played in Sparks Pop Warner as a kid, is so pro-Pop Warner.
“Actually a couple of guys I played with on a team are now back coaching their kids in Sparks Pop Warner. The gentleman that was president and a coach back when I played is now equipment managing for Sparks Pop Warner,” Bates said.
“It’s almost for me come full circle as to what I know. It’s an incredible feeling. It just goes to show that we’re on the right track and we do our best to always do the right thing. We’re having huge success with it because we base success on returning players. The fact that 83 percent of our league returns every year, that’s incredible. The fact that I get calls all year long asking when football starts again, shows we have the right people in place, and they’re just doing a fantastic job in all cities, not just Sparks.”