There is no shortage of Viking Pride or Wildcat Pride in TitleTown.
And the Valdosta-Lowndes County Parks & Recreation Authority is trying to make sure that pride is instilled at an early age, while hoping to develop the area’s next star.
Following a model initially used with resounding success for basketball this past winter, the VLPRA is now offering a district-based youth football and cheerleading league. In other words, future Valdosta Wildcats will be playing together starting with flag football in kindergarten. Same for future Lowndes Vikings.
“Our basketball program doubles, so that was the first step and now we’re looking to do the same model,” VLPRA executive director George Page said. Registration for the league is June 21, which is also the evaluation day — where the children will showcase their skills in NFL-style drills at Martin Stadium (Lowndes County districts) or Valdosta Middle School (Valdosta districts).
“This model is used in a lot of other areas. And we’re just trying to implement a model that we feel is best for our area.”
Rather than bring all children into one centralized location and the players divided up from there, the new model will have the players put on teams in districts that are based on where they will attend middle school. For example, a child that will attend Pine Grove Middle School would play for a team in that district through the VLPRA’s youth leagues, while a child living in the Valdosta Middle School zone would play for the Valdosta Middle District at the VLPRA.
“Our main focus is that all of our volunteer coaches are teaching the basic fundamentals of the game to all of our kids, either the Viking way or the Wildcat way,” Page said, adding that Valdosta High and Lowndes High coaches have been helpful in the past in offering tips and advice for the youth volunteer coaching staffs.
“Through those guys coming in and working with our coaches, we’re getting great coaches in and teaching the basic fundamentals of the game at a very early age.”
Added VLPRA marketing and public relations director Jessica Catlett: “They are building the relationships early within the team but also building that relationship through the school base at an early age.
“You have that school pride, which everybody around here has anyway. You go to any child in the Valdosta City Schools or any child in the Lowndes County Schools and they’re going to have that Wildcat pride or that Viking pride. That starts early, this will just help do that through football. They will be learning it, like George said, the Viking way or the Wildcat way early on.”
But learning the “Wildcat way” or the “Viking way” isn’t the main push behind the change to the VLPRA’s youth league structure.
Rather the VLPRA is looking for a way to help ease the stress on working parents and their pocketbooks. The league costs $35 for flag football leagues (kindergarten and first grade) and cheerleading, and $50 for tackle leagues (second grade through fifth grade), which includes uniforms — including pads and helmets.
“One of the things is our county is spread out, and when you looked at the model and you put all the kids into one central area,” Page said. “So when practices would be held, you’d have kids from all parts of the city or county on teams and parents are having to drive all over the county.
“Doing this community based, all the kids that are in Lake Park or South Lowndes, they will be able to practice at South Lowndes Park. The parents aren’t having to drive three or four times a week to the city or to other parts of the county.”
Said Catlett: “For instane, I live in Hahira. If my child was old enough to play football with us, I would have to drive from town, where I work, to Hahira to pick up my child and back to town to practice. Through this community-based football system, I’d just have to pick him up and we’d be ready to practice close to home.
“It saves time and it saves money for these families. And it really helps build communities.”
That will also help spur community involvement and pride. And that is the biggest positive of all for the VLPRA.
“Parks and recreation, we just adopted our master plan and our slogan is ‘Growing an active community,’” Page added. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re really excited about the growth we’ve already seen.
“We’re just trying to continue to build a better community.”
There is no shortage of Viking Pride or Wildcat Pride in TitleTown.
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