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Giving thanks to the Real Heros

November 29, 2022

Last month Tom Brady stepped into controversy when he compared his profession to war.

“I almost look at ... a football season like you’re going away on deployment in the military, and it’s like, ‘Man, here I go again.’ There’s only one way to do it.”

For a QB who has become legendary for his attention to detail, Brady was horribly sloppy on that one. Frankly, it was offensive to many service members and their families. He later apologized for the gaffe and said there is no comparison between the sacrifice of our military and what athletes do. Period. 

Two weeks ago we honored those more than 16.5 million Americans who have served in the military, men and women who gave years of their life – and many gave much more more – to win and preserve our freedoms. Then last week we gathered around dining tables with our families to give thanks for things big and small in our lives, thanks in large part to the men and women who have served.

So when we kick off the 65th annual Pop Warner Super Bowl and National Cheer & Dance Championships this Saturday in Orlando we will start our competitions with the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

And we will hopefully feel gratitude as we prepare to watch hundreds of boys and girls from small towns and big cities, from every corner of the country, enjoy perhaps the greatest week of their sporting life. It is here where their hard work from August through November will pay dividends as they compete to become national champion. They arrived as a team that includes not just their teammates but coaches and family who supported and guided them. Together, they worked toward a cause bigger than one individual.  

As Brady noted in his apology, football is not remotely like being deployed. But it is because of those who did serve that we have the opportunity for an amazing week.

Thanks,

Jon Butler

Freedom to play

A friend recently told the story of his 12-year-old who loves football, hockey, and lacrosse, and plays all three. But not without a challenge.

In a pre-season meeting in a cold locker room last season, the son’s hockey coach told the team that he expects them to be at every practice. Unless you’re sick or injured, there are no excuses. If they miss one because another sport gets in the way they won’t play in the next game. Talk about stressing a group of kids who are also participating in typical Fall seasonal sports like soccer, football, and cheerleading.  

My friend talked to the coach.

“I told him, we understand the commitment that’s needed and the importance of having kids at practice. Their development and the team’s development depend on it. But the hockey season lasts until late March and, over the next seven weeks, our son will miss one hockey practice and a football practice a week since they fall on the same days. He didn’t like it but my son was comfortable with any fallout because he wanted to play football.”

My friend’s son left that hockey team after the season and returned to a town program where there is more flexibility and understanding.  

Did my friend and his son make the right decision?

It really is a family decision and what is best for your child.  But we believe in the importance of playing multiple sports at a young age. It would be ideal if they didn’t conflict and were played in different seasons but hockey season seems to bleed into football, and soccer is a popular all-year pursuit, just like lacrosse and baseball in some regions. Back in the day, youth sports mirrored high school with different sports in different seasons. No more.

Unfortunately, the lines have blurred and it’s the Wild West, making it hard for parents to navigate. They're told that if they want their child to succeed in a given sport they need to devote themselves to that sport. Often it’s driven by keeping up with other kids their age and with an eye toward making a high school team down the road, and eventually a college scholarship.

But research tells us that sports specialization at an early age can rob the child of the chance to test her or his skills in another sport, and it can contribute to repetitive stress injuries and burnout.

So as coaches and parents we need to do our part to teach kids the importance of committing to a team and not over-scheduling them. But we also need to let kids be kids, and let them enjoy a multitude of sports and activities.



Jon Butler

Adults are crashing the kids’ party

I receive an alert in my inbox each day with stories that mention Pop Warner. They appear in newspapers and on television stations from around the country. Often they tell a heartwarming tale or it’s an NFL player recalling his Pop Warner days. Occasionally, it’s a story that reflects poorly on our name. As I was preparing to write this letter this week I scanned the news alert and saw a couple of stories that made me wince.

There was a story from Kansas that called out the fact that every youth sport is having difficulty finding officials. We know this firsthand. One of the reasons can be found in the other story in that news alert – a head coach outside Boston was upset with a call and berated a referee to the point that the official ejected him from the game. Irate, the coach took a football and whipped it, hitting the ref in the chest. Whether he meant to hit the ref or not is irrelevant. The coach was arrested and charged with assault. 

Incidents like the one in Massachusetts have become too prevalent. Not only do they reflect poorly on our name but on the state of youth sports and society, in general. Too often we hear about simple disagreements becoming physical – in stores, on roads, and during youth sporting events. During games and competitions, we see it from parents and coaches, and we’re starting to see it from young athletes.

While there are far more examples of positive coaching and supportive sports parenting, the vocal minority is getting louder and more abusive.

Last year one of our leagues in New York  had to take the dramatic and unfortunate step of canceling the tackle football season for three of its associations after a handful of football parents fought and screamed abusive language at other parents, coaches, officials, and players.  

As we said last year at the time, it is the young people on those teams who are paying the price. Losing the chance to play the sport they love and having to witness physical and verbal altercations in the stands among parents is scarring. It is also making people re-assess if it’s worth it to become a youth sports official. This kind of behavior has no place in youth sports. Or anywhere for that matter.

Adults, whether on the sidelines or in the stands, the message is simple. Do better. Be better. 

Slow down, take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. Put the experience in perspective and remind yourself these are children at play. Nothing more than that. Let them have fun. The kids probably won’t remember the score in a month or what you think is a missed call. What they will remember is the positive experience of playing and competing with their friends. And they will certainly remember their parents getting into a fight on the sidelines or their coach getting arrested.

So let’s be present in their lives, sit back, be positive and let the kids be kids. And adults, be adults.



Jon Butler

A Letter to Our Volunteers: Thank You

As Pop Warner teams around the country prepare to start play for our 94th season I wanted to take a moment to say thank you.

Thank you to the thousands of people who devote their time and energy to ensure our young people have the opportunity to be kids and participate in sports they love.  

We all lead busy lives these days, between work and family and a thousand activities jamming our schedules. Supporting Pop Warner at the grassroots level is no small task. It’s often coaching many hours in the hot sun in some parts of the country and frigid, dark evenings in other parts. Volunteering in a snack shack, organizing team events and handing out uniforms. It’s judging cheer and dance competitions and working the chains on the sideline of a football game. Board meetings and team dinners. It may sometimes feel thankless. Please know it isn’t. 

My high school football coach was tough. There were no shortage of criticisms for the players, often delivered with a bark. When you achieved success and nailed your assignment you’d look over for a thumbs up or a verbal pat on the back. It was never there. Several years later, I ended up coaching under him. 

When I interviewed for the job, he told me that he’d recently been reviewing game film from my playing days. He cited a specific play we ran and said, 'For the life of me, I don’t understand why we didn’t run that play to your side more – we always made excellent yardage with it.’ Obviously, it didn’t help during my playing days but it gave me a nice confidence boost to start my coaching career.

He was a good coach and a good man. I’d like to think if he had been coaching at the Pop Warner level he would have seen the value of occasional positive affirmations. Because it’s what I see in action when visiting our teams. We have so many great adult role models who work hard to go beyond teaching the fundamentals of the sport. You are shaping lives. Thank you. 

Have fun, safe and rewarding season!



Jon Butler

Bring on the Energy

July 19, 2022

As we get closer to the start of another season – our 94th – I find myself thinking of our student athletes and what they must be feeling this time of year. Maybe some butterflies. Excitement. Probably an occasional moment of frustration as their friends head off to the lake or the pool and they head off to practice.

But they’re in it together. Cheerleaders and football players. Thousands of them. Different sports but united in so many ways.

Which also makes me think about the Pop Warner experience, specifically the Game Day Experience. There is nothing like a community coming together around a sporting event.

We see it on Friday nights at the high school fields, Saturdays in college stadiums or played out in movies and TV shows. Community of friends and family and strangers taking their place in the stands or along the perimeter of the field. Players in a huddle, cheerleaders on the sidelines getting everyone pumped up. We hear it with the choreographed cheers, the PA announcer calling the highlights, the music blasting from the speakers, the whistle of the refs and parents cheering on their athletes. This is where football and cheerleading can come together to showcase what makes Pop Warner special.

Frankly, we see this spirit and unified game day experience in some associations more than others. While cheerleaders are prominent throughout the game with some teams, many others refuse to let them on the sidelines. For those who neglect to bring both sides of our family – cheer and football – together they’re missing out. And they’re doing a disservice to the kids, families and their own programs.

So let’s make 2022 the year we elevate the experience for our athletes across football and cheer, and for our families.

To help promote that we’re doing something special. We’re going to hold a year-long campaign to promote the Pop Warner Little Scholars Game Day Experience. You’ll be asked to post photos of your football and cheer teams together on game day, each doing what they love during the game. We will highlight a number of them throughout the course of the season and at the end of the year we will announce winners in each region. Those teams will receive some cool prizes. Please stay tuned for more details.

This is a special time of year and, more to the point, a special time in the lives of all our kids. Let’s celebrate that. 

Best of luck as you prepare for the season.



Jon Butler

Champions in the Classroom

May 2, 2022

Every year, I look forward to celebrating the hard work and achievements of our All-American Scholars. I am always so incredibly proud of the remarkable commitment thousands of our young student-athletes make to their academics, and no more so than these past few years which brought challenges of remote schooling and limited interaction with friends and teammates. It’s an exciting time, and one I hope you all get to enjoy with family and friends.

In the midst of this year’s celebration, I was asked “what does it mean to be a student-athlete?”

Luckily, Pop Warner has many great examples of what happens when you work hard not only in your sport but also in the classroom. Aerospace engineers. Police officers. Nurses. NFL players and executives. Teachers. Business CEOs. These are just a few.

Being a student-athlete is in our DNA. We were built on promoting the dual values of athletics and academics. It all started (nearly 100 year ago!) with the idea of giving young people a place where they could learn lifelong values that go beyond sport and be applied to all aspects of life. Today, we remain the only national youth football, cheer and dance organization with established academic standards. We believe that this distinction – the standards we set for our participants – instills in them a sense of responsibility that will help now and later on in life.  

Being a student-athlete means managing your time, giving strong effort in school and extracurricular activities, making good decisions, being disciplined and driven, and maintaining a good attitude. It means dedicating yourself to your athletics, but never ahead of your academics. (There’s a reason the word “student” comes first.)

There’s a stat that I think is important to share. Nearly eight million students participate in high school sports, less than 500,000 compete in college, and a fraction of them – just two percent – go on to play professionally. Let that sink in. Just two percent. It’s not to say that professional sports aren’t possible. They certainly are. But it speaks to the fact that education is vital and focusing on your studies can help build a foundation for success.

The road won’t be easy, but ask any student-athlete and they’ll tell you that it is always well worth it.

Congratulations once again to our All-American Scholars. We encourage you to continue your outstanding work in your sport as well as in the classroom, and hope to be celebrating with you again next year!



Jon Butler

How Champions Are Built

February 3, 2022

The last few weeks of playoffs have given us  some of  the best football we’ve ever seen. Comeback wins, thrilling score changes, heartbreaking losses. There’s been no shortage of blood (Brady’s lip), sweat (despite some record-breaking cold) and tears (from SF to KC to Green Bay to Buffalo and beyond). 

Competition breeds that level of emotion. But so does the journey. These players are working year-round on their skills, their strength and conditioning and their mental approach to playing at that level. Teams are working as units in OTAs and training camps. Their journey is long and it’s hard, requiring sacrifice, teamwork, perseverance.

While it’s tough to match the level of the NFL, we see a similar approach in Pop Warner.

In December, our 2021 season culminated in Orlando, where we hosted more than 7,000 student athletes from 64 football teams and more than 500 cheer and dance squads, all looking to do what those teams in the NFL have worked hard at doing – coming together as a single unit to win the ultimate prize.

Check out the details of who participated and who won here at our Pop Warner Super Bowl and Cheer and Dance National Championship website

Pop Warner is more than just playing sports we love. It’s about developing relationships, building character and learning life lessons. It starts in August when teams begin to practice, and goes through league, regional and national competitions. But it’s seen in more than the winning of a title. It’s also in the heartbreak of a loss. More teams lost during our championship week than won, and understanding how to deal with loss and how to come back better because of it are among the most important lessons any young person can learn. 

When a Super Bowl champion walks off the field in L.A. in two weeks, let's remember the work that it took to get there, and appreciate that the seeds of that hard work started for many of those players on a Pop Warner field 20 years ago.  And for the majority of young people who will never play a down in the NFL those lessons and that journey will remain equally valuable.  

Thanks and enjoy the (other) Super Bowl.



Jon Butler

Giving thanks

December 1, 2021

Last week millions of families across the country gathered for Thanksgiving, sharing the day with people who are important in our lives. The centerpiece was the food – turkey, stuffing and my favorite, cranberry sauce – and football. 

But this year there was a heavy helping of gratitude. 

For nearly two years we battled through the most challenging public health crises of our lifetime. The pandemic took so much from so many, including the loss of loved ones, the disruption of school or added financial distress. We’re not completely out of the woods and we need to remain vigilant but there’s a lot to be grateful for, including the return of normalcy for our kids and sports. 

This Saturday we will kick off our 64th Pop Warner Super Bowl and the Pop Warner National Cheer & Dance Championships in Orlando. Last year, COVID-19 restricted us to host only a modified National Cheer & Dance championship and no football Super Bowl. 

Frankly, we had a challenge truly gauging how many teams would be able to make the trek to Florida because there has been so much uncertainty. The answer: a whole lot of teams will be making their way to Universal Orlando Resort, Camping World Stadium and Orange County Convention Center to try and win a national title. We are back to near pre-COVID-19 levels with more than 500 cheer and dance teams and 64 football teams.

Beyond this upcoming week, we are also grateful for the thousands of student-athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers and families who made this year so successful under such uncertain circumstances. Sports teach young people about working together, putting in maximum effort and overcoming adversity. Together, the Pop Warner community checked all those boxes this year.

For that, I give thanks.



Jon Butler

Throwing a flag on the adults

September 30, 2021

Our friends at USA Hockey produced a great Public Service Announcement a few years back in which they implored parents to act like adults at their kids’ games and stop yelling at them from the stands. And their counterparts in Canada had a similar campaign. The spots perfectly capture the embarrassing and damaging behavior we see too often on the sidelines across youth sports. 

While there are far more examples of good sports parenting, the vocal minority is getting louder and more abusive.

Last week one of our leagues had to take the dramatic and unfortunate step of cancelling the tackle football season for three of its associations after a handful of football parents fought and screamed abusive language at other parents, coaches, officials and players. The video and reports from those games are appalling and embarassing. These incidents were beyond unruly, they were dangerous and they weren’t isolated.

When it announced its decision, New York’s Tri-Valley League wrote, “Unfortunately, a few bad apples spoil it for everyone else. We as adults and representatives of our associations and organizations need to stop the finger pointing and coming up with excuses for bad behavior...The focus of any youth sports competition should be to provide a supportive and safe environment for our participants.”

It is the young people on those teams who are paying the price. Losing the chance to play the sport they love and having to witness physical and verbal altercations in the stands among parents is scarring. This kind of behavior has no place in youth sports. Or anywhere for that matter.

Parents, the message is simple. Do better. Be better. 

Slow down, take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. Put the experience in perspective and remind yourself these are children at play. Nothing more than that. Let them have fun. The kids probably won’t remember the score in a month or what you think is a missed call. What they will remember is the positive experience of playing and competing with their friends. And they will certainly remember their parents getting into a fight on the sidelines.

So let’s be present in their lives, sit back, be positive and let the kids be kids. And adults, be adults.

Warm regards,

Jon Butler

Time to start again

August 26, 2021

While some see August as the dreaded last full month of summer, we see it as a beginning. It’s when teams of young people come together to begin their work toward a common goal. Where they prepare physically and mentally for the competition ahead, and where they learn to put the common good of a team ahead of their own personal wishes. We see that in Pop Warner teams across the country every week. It is what makes team sports so important in childhood development.

For some, it’s been almost a year since they were together with their team and for many it’s been much longer. Dozens of our programs were forced to take last year off from football or cheer because of COVID-19. The pandemic impacted so many areas of our lives – some more tragically than others – and the loss of fun that comes with playing a sport was felt by thousands of young people. 

Working with our Medical Advisory Committee and Pop Warner regional leadership teams, we will keep an eye on the ever-shifting nature of COVID-19 and ask our community to remain vigilant. But we are optimistic and excited that there is a return to normalcy for most. And that hopefully means turning the pre-season practices that have already kicked off into a full  season of play beginning as soon as this weekend.

Among the things we’re excited about as we head into the season are the evolution of PW Authentic, our Pop Warner uniform line that is making ordering custom-made apparel easier and less costly for our teams, and the extraordinary national championship week we’ve developed with our partners at Florida Citrus Sports.

The Pop Warner Super Bowl and Cheer & Dance National Championship will settle into their new home this December – Universal Resort Orlando. We think you’re going to love the competition venues with Camping World Stadium campus hosting football and the world-class Orange County Convention Center home to cheer and dance.

And, of course, Universal Orlando Resort is an award-winning vacation destination with three epic theme parks that feature some of the world’s most exciting and innovative experiences, and some spectacular resort hotels.

We hope you have a fun, safe and rewarding start to the season.

Warm regards,

Jon Butler

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