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— It’s not uncommon to see a football player, replete with helmet and pads crumple on the ground crying. But these players aren’t five and six feet tall, they’re barely four feet tall and members of the second- and third-grade Pea Ridge Youth Football League. The young players are encouraged to get up and go again.

In its second year, this group of young ball players is being prepared for the more competitive youth league for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders, who are being prepared for the seventh-grade junior high school team, according to Dickie Winn, president of the board of directors of Pea Ridge Youth Football.

The board is comprised of the head football coaches for each grade and includes Curtis James, Johnny Johnson and Vernon Leach Jr.

“I just kind of oversee the coaches for the second and third grades. That groups for instruction, for fun.

Those coaches are Jeremy Anderson, Mat Watson, Jeff Cato and Shane McDonald,” Winn said. “I started that league two years. It’s really helped our program out quite a bit. We’re the only town except Bentonville and Siloam Springs to have them that young.”

There are four second- and third-grade teams, each of whom play one another.

The older teams travel and play teams from surrounding towns.

“It helps gets them involved in it at an early age. If kids are having fun and successful, we’ll get more and more every year.

They’ll learn the basics faster and when they hit junior high, they’re going to know what to do,” he said.

Winn said that all the children “get really good playing time,” but that from the fourth grade up, it is a competitive league, not a recreational league.

The Northwest Arkansas Youth Football League began in 1992, Winn said and Pea Ridge joined in 1993.

“I’ve been running it six years,” he said.

There are about 145 children involved. Football is a very expensive sport and youth football is no exception. The cost of equipping one player is $110.

Winn said that he has gradually been replacing all the equipment and that about half of the equipment is about two years old.

“When we first came in the league six years ago, wehad pretty much nothing but junk. Last year I spent $11,000 on new equipment,” he said, explaining that the jerseys alone cost $25 and the children keep their jerseys. Registration for the second- and thirdgrade players is only $35 and $50 for fourth through sixth grade. Another cost is insurance which costs about $1,000 a season and is supplemental insurance. The league pays a charter fee to the parent league in order to get insurance.

The gate fees help fund the program and the Booster Club runs the concession stand, earning the proceeds but paying a portion towards the cost of hiring the referees for the Saturday games.

“I think everything is go ing real good,” Winn said.

“We’ve got a lot of good coaches. I think that’s why we’re pretty successful.”

Winn praised Pea Ridge High School head football coach Tony Travis saying he had attended both games and practices.

“We’ve never had a senior high coach involved like we do now. He comes out to practices. It’s a big uplifter.

“Ours is the base. This is where it all starts. It’s just the trickle effect,” Winn concluded, adding that the fourth-grade Blackhawk team is in the running for first place in the league - something which will be determined when the undefeated team meets Gentry, also undefeated, this Saturday.

At the end of the season, the league hosts a skating party for the players and cheerleaders and their siblings and presents the trophies earned.

Area, Pages 11 on 10/21/2009

Print Headline: Football players learn the game early

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