DALLAS — Dallas resident Jeff Hevener remembers seeing young kids attending Dallas High football games with their youth uniforms on, but he knew something was wrong.
With two youth leagues, Pop Warner and Kids, Inc., kids had to choose which league to play for.
Things are different this fall.
After years of having two youth football leagues in Dallas, Pop Warner and Kids, Inc. have joined forces. According to Hevener, that’s the way it should always be.
“It’s not what kind of football are you playing, it’s Dallas football now,” Hevener said.
Hevener has worked with both organizations and was one of many to help bring the two leagues together.
Kids, Inc. has been a staple in the Dallas community, offering youth sports for more than 50 years, Hevener said.
In 2011, Pop Warner made its debut in Dallas to help fill the void left when budget cuts meant middle school football would be eliminated.
Soon, an unforeseen issue became apparent.
The age/weight matrix used by Pop Warner helps ensure kids are placed on teams against opponents of similar age and size, so there is no grade cutoff.
Because of this, both leagues unintentionally began drawing from the same pool of kids for their respective leagues.
“If a kid is in fifth grade, 10 years old and weighs 95 pounds, he can be on three different teams,” Hevener said.
That meant choosing one league could leave the other league’s teams shorthanded, or friends could wind up on different teams in different leagues.
That won’t be the case any longer.
Pop Warner runs youth football in Dallas, but works with Kids, Inc. to reach more youth.
“We attend board meetings to keep them apprised of what is going on, what we are doing, and what is coming up,” Hevener said. “We are Dallas Pop Warner, but we are a community sport representing Kids, Inc.”
The result is a single league, one where kids play under one banner, allowing for higher participation rates and more teams.
“In our community, we don’t have enough youth in sports to field teams for two organizations,” Hevener said.
After the decision to come together was made, the race was on to prepare for the season.
One of the biggest challenges is ensuring parents know the deadlines for sign-ups, which occur in April and May.
“At times, we can make an exception, but our ball is rolling in May, and teams are established in the first week of June,” Hevener said. “We know it’s tough because many kids are playing baseball during that time and it’s difficult to tell families that it’s too late, but from sports physicals to all the certifications needed and the formation of the teams, we are set in early summer.”
Since then, volunteers have been preparing for the season, which begins this week.
“We have background checks, safety checks, gear inspection, issuing the equipment, certifying each player to make sure they are in the right league based on age and weight, and grades are also incorporated,” Hevener said. “There’s a lot that goes into the formation of a team.”
This year also marked the start of a youth cheer program.
“Last year, we went to football games and would see a girl or two cheering,” Hevener said. “The parents said, ‘why can’t we do a cheer program for them,’ and I agreed with them.”
About 30 girls are involved with two cheer squads and six coaches.
As Pop Warner and Kids, Inc. look to help both the football and cheer programs grow, player safety remains a concern across the country. Hevener said the league is doing all it can to ensure the safest conditions possible thanks to the age/weight safety matrix.
“It’s not just pitting kids of equal age together, it factors in age and weight ranges as well,” Hevener said.
That means kids are grouped with players of similar size, allowing for safer playing conditions.
In addition, sideline personnel must be certified in Heads Up, a national program aimed at teaching safer tackling and blocking techniques. Training for CPR/First Aid and recognizing conditions, like heat exhaustion, are also taught.
With the youth football season kicking into full gear, Hevener isn’t sure how big the league can grow, but has seen players from Dallas and Perrydale participate.
No matter what you’re looking for, Hevener said this new arrangement will offer opportunities for all.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the best athlete or just looking to get active, we have a spot for you,” Hevener said.