As the calendar flips from July to August many kids begin to fear the end of their summer vacation. But there is at least one group of youngsters who look forward to the change in temperature and seasons: youth football teams and cheerleaders.
The Berlin Bears kicked off their 2013 season with a “Berlin Combine” Aug. 1. The night’s activities included a 40-yard dash, three-cone drill, and more, to help kids shake off any rust. Regular practices began Aug. 5.
“We’re going to have six different competitive teams at the four levels,” Bears President Rich Dunn reported. “We’ve got about 165 kids taking part in total. We’ve grown within the last couple of years to reach that number.”
The number of participants in cheerleading has grown steadily, as well. There are big cheer squads at all four levels, and two additional teams for the B and C Level teams.
While it’s hard to pinpoint a concrete reason for the growth of the league in recent seasons, Dunn has a hunch: The involvement of Berlin High School football coach John Capodice and his staff.
“John is very involved in our midget program,” said Dunn. “We see the program, both high school and youth, as one big program. John does a lot; he’s very involved in helping us set up our plays and our schemes so that when the kids are going from the A team in eighth grade to their freshman, sophomore, and junior years in high school, they’ve run that same scheme for most of their time” in the sport ... The youth football programs in the state that have been successful all have a big commitment from the high school coaches, and we’re lucky enough to have that.”
Football, cheerleading, and having fun, are the reasons youngsters return to the Bears each fall, but those in charge make sure to teach life lessons as well. For instance, with recent events including a certain NFL player with Connecticut ties all over the news, Bears leaders made sure to discuss the situation with the kids.
“Any issues that come up, we do not put our heads in the sand. We kind of tackle them head on,” said Dunn. “For example, with the Aaron Hernandez thing, we had a clinic, got all the kids together and said ‘Let’s talk about what happened there.’ The thing we really try to focus on is that we’re teaching life skills through the involvement of cheerleading and football; teamwork, hard work, accountability, and all that type of stuff. So philosophically we’re teaching more holistic life skills through their involvement in the sport.”