We aren’t a Pee Wee Football Family. And, in a world of Small Town Football, we are definitely in the minority. In fact, I think I feel the eggshells breaking beneath my feet as I type this blasphemy.
But I’m trudging ahead, so, hear me out. I promise we are all on the same team.
My husband put his foot down years ago regarding the age our boys would join the Football Team, and that timeframe did not include the Elementary Years. His views are heavily influenced by his own football experiences and observations as the son of a high school football coach. While we can debate the pros and cons on learning the strategy of the game early in life verses later in life, there is one common concern. Injury. Boys tackling other boys at any age can cause injury. Period. Of course, I understand injuries happen in all sports including baseball, soccer, and basketball. Personally, I didn’t even play those sports as an elementary student, and still managed to find myself with broken bones and stitches every few years or so. So yes, injury happens anyway. But, I think we can all agree that football is more of a contact sport than the others. And, that’s where my husband’s views end, and mine begin.
We actually participated in Pee Wee Cheerleading for two years. After our move home, I was super excited to involve my daughter in all things Decatur, where she could wear her Eagle Blue with pride, and cheer on her Team. In Kindergarten, it was Flag Football. The games were held on a soccer field, and the parents cheered while the boys learned the correct direction to run, and the girls tried to stay together during their chants. It was fun. It really, really was. It was a time for parents to visit, kids to socialize, and everyone to support Their Team—it was a good foundational beginning to Good Sportsmanship. The second year was an entirely different story. It was as though we’d graduated to Varsity Football, and the stakes were equivalent to the Super Bowl. The boys began tackling—hard. There was an official time keeper and announcer, and because the clock stopped between plays, the games grew from one to two hours. The entire climate of the game had changed. As I sat in the stands with the parents, I heard negative comments shouted at players, volunteer coaches, and even the Cheerleaders. I was shocked at that level of Bad Sportmanship, and the modeling of that behavior to kids just learning The Game. I knew that would be our last Pee Wee year, simply because of the Atmosphere surrounding the Game, and I knew that atmosphere was not a good fit for our family.
But, that was my experience. And, it was cheerleading–not the actual sport of football. So, I surveyed other moms to see what kind of experiences their boys were having. Things I learned: intensive practices at least twice a week-two hours each (beginning in August before the first day of school), dads scouting other teams for pre-game strategy, volunteer coaches watching tape, pep talks discussing how to change these “boys” to “men.” Is it just me, or does this seem a little intense for a second grader? Even the NFL is getting in on the game, highlighting the “Little Guys” on a recent sportscast. The local blogosphere has also highlighted some of the Pee Wee Culture, just because it does seem to be such a phenomenon. But, there are two sides to every coin, and I also learned that some of the boys LOVED it. Some of the boys THRIVED on it. They looked forward to wearing their jerseys to school on Fridays, and were chomping at the bit to hit the field, hit the other team, and score a touchdown. And, I know sometimes finding a niche for a kid is all it takes to motivate that kid on many levels, so I will concede that point.
Do moms still cringe when they hear the crack of the helmets? Absolutely. I doubt that worry ever fades, even as the boys actually do turn into young men. Have some moms also opted out of the Pee Wee experience, holding off for Junior High and High School? You bet. And yet, are there still other moms volunteering to be Team Mom, giving “go get ‘em” speeches, and painting signs for halftime? I don’t see how it could be any other way. But, my question is, “what are we teaching our kids?” Are we teaching perseverance, hard work, team spirit, and discipline? Or are we fostering a climate where Football beats all? I continually wish I could harness the Spirit behind Football and Athletics in the classroom–that somehow students would tackle parts of speech, mathematics equations, and science fair projects with the same intensity and focus of this football league. I know it’s different. I know a field has a certain electricity that a classroom lacks, but wouldn’t it be amazing to teach that academic perseverance and success was as fantastic as a Saturday morning touchdown? Wouldn’t be amazing if we celebrated Monday Morning Focus the same as we do Friday Night Lights?