Youth Football and Cheerleading

Northern Indiana Pop Warner League preparing for 27th season

2014-05-30T17:00:00Z 2014-05-30T19:28:04Z Northern Indiana Pop Warner League preparing for 27th seasonJohn Burbridge john.burbridge@nwi.com, (219) 933-3371 nwitimes.com

Brian Lidgard knows the Pop Warner Official Rule Book like the back of his hand.

He expects Pop Warner league officials and coaches to have a grasp of its contents as well.

"You can say it's required reading," said Lidgard, who is president of the Northern Indiana Pop Warner Little Scholars, an organization comprised of 23 youth football, cheerleading and dance leagues within Lake, Porter, LaPorte and Newton counties.

This is a select book club.

"We don't hand these out to everyone ... just to league administrators and coaches," Lidgard said of the book, which can't even be downloaded without a password. "We're careful who these go out to. We don't want someone outside of the league getting a hold of this, then copying what's in here for their own league, and then saying, 'Hey, we're just like Pop Warner.' "

Lidgard has been the NIPWLS president for the past four years. He formerly was the LaPorte Pop Warner president, and has been involved in PW as a coach and administrator for 16 years.

"My three sons played Pop Warner, and the first of my five grandsons has just started playing," Lidgard said.

The NIPWLS league is entering its 27th season. It regularly sends football, cheerleading and dance teams to the Pop Warner National Championships held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The NIPWLS remains Indiana's lone Pop Warner program, thus NIPWLS division champions are referred to as "state champions."

There are programs in 41 other states, as well as seven other countries.

"Pop Warner (youth league) can be traced back to 1929," Lidgard said. "There are several major reasons why we're still around today.

"One, we have control of our coaches, who all have to qualify and pass a background check, and are subject to Pop Warner's coaches code of conduct.

"We also have an age-weight matrix system that makes the sport safer. And,  with our Little Scholars, we're the only national youth sports organization that rewards its kids for outstanding school work."

Lidgard mentioned that league fees, on the average, have remained relatively inexpensive.

"We have no tryouts, and everyone is guaranteed to play a certain amount of plays a game, depending on the team's roster size," Lidgard said. "Each team has a play checker who, with a clipboard in their hands, makes sure every player gets their required plays in. They patrol the opposing team's sideline, so they're usually pretty vigilant."

Though the fall season doesn't start until August, Lidgard said many of the town leagues already have started sign-ups.

"Yeah, our numbers are a little down," Lidgard said of the league that normally services around 7,000 children. "Parents are more concerned about concussions. Pop Warner has responded by creating a Medical Advisory Board to be more proactive about safety."

Lidgard said Pop Warner has curtailed contact drills and places greater emphasis of safer tackling and blocking techniques.

"The game has changed, and the helmet-to-helmet hits that never drew penalties before are now being flagged," Lidgard said. "Players and coaches at all levels have to learn how to adjust to these changes."

Playing Pop Warner is not going to guarantee a starting varsity position, a college scholarship or an NFL career.

"But about 80 percent of the players in the NFL have played Pop Warner," Lidgard said. "It's a good place to learn how to play the game correctly.

"And, if you're a ninth-grader who has never played organized football before, you're going to have a lot of catching up to do if you want to play in high school."

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