Pop Warner dads have a night out

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 6, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Every time they hit the football field last season, the Nansemond-Suffolk Pop Warner football players had one thought ingrained in their minds: &uot;Pride, Respect, Love, Protect, Togetherness.&uot;

It’s the team’s motto. It’s their way of knowing that no matter what, the young Saints will always be there for each other. If a player bolts 81 yards on a kick return for a touchdown (as Daryl Ricks did for a league record earlier this season), he takes the time to high-five his blockers for paving the way. If a quarterback gets sacked behind the line (which rarely happened to the speedy Will Crenshaw this past season), he can count on his teammates being there to pick him up, pat him on the back, and let him know that they’re ready to help him make the next play count – and the plays after that.

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All season, the Pee-Wee Saints squad carried the saying in their hearts and minds, charging to a 6-2 record – the best in the league’s eight-year history (both of their losses were by less than a touchdown). On Thursday night, the past and present players’ parents and coaches showed their belief in the maxim as well at the Eighth Annual Dad’s Night at the Lee Jordan Clubhouse.

After the event began with a serving of drinks and appetizers, coach Davis Birdsong showed the guests a cinematic look back at the past season on a giant film screen. As the strands of John Cougar Mellencamp’s &uot;Small Town&uot; and music from the film &uot;Rocky&uot; pierced the air, visitors watched their sons and pals share the togetherness on and off the field that youth sports generates. Between clips of the players running for touchdowns and gang-tackling opposing running backs, viewers saw them hanging out in practice, plotting with their coaches, and grabbing sips of water from the team waterboys.

&uot;We have this event to say thank you to the parents from this year and the past years,&uot; Birdsong explained. &uot;There are dads here whose sons played in this league and are in college now. It goes to show that once you’re a member of the Nansemond-Suffolk family, you’re a member for life.&uot;

For proof, just ask John Tuttle. His sons John Jr. and Matt, both former Saints, played on the 2002-3 Nansemond-Suffolk Academy gridiron squad that went unbeaten in the TCIS last season. John Jr. headed off to college, while Matt stayed behind and helped the team to a second straight perfect conference season last year, himself making the All-TCIS team and All-Old Dominion Football Conference team (All-State rankings will be announced next week).

&uot;This is a great time to go back and look at the pictures and see how young everyone was,&uot; Tuttle said. &uot;Pop Warner football is an interesting time in your life, and things like this help you relive it a little bit.&uot;

While Tuttle’s boys tore up the Pop Warner rankings in the 1990s, Darnell Johnson’s son Dominique Patterson helped them into the new millennium, rushing for a league-record XXX yards and scoring XXX touchdowns. Dominique also finished second on the team with XXX tackles last year.

&uot;This league was really well-organized, and he felt good about it,&uot; Johnson said of his son. &uot;He knew it was always a team effort, and he felt comfortable with the players and coaches.&uot;

The players aren’t the only ones who walk away from a season with new knowledge, Birdsong said. &uot;People don’t realize how much (the coaches) learn from the kids,&uot; he said. &uot;You learn about how kids are going to react in certain situations, and you learn to encourage them to do their best.&uot;

Birdsong learned from one of the best; former NSA coach Ron Killmon, who coached him during the 1985-6 seasons. &uot;I could call him right now and tell him that I need him, and he’d drive right over,&uot; Birdsong said of his former educator, now retired and living in Norfolk. &uot;I want the kids to look at us like that. I want them to see us as father figures. I want them to know that we’ll always be there for them. That no matter what or when, they can always call on us and we’ll come to help them out.&uot;

That’s a message that guest speaker Jim Prince, coach of Virginia Beach’s Ocean Lakes High School team, has been sending South Hampton Roads youths for over three decades.

&uot;Sometimes times change, but kids don’t,&uot; Prince said. &uot;If we keep our expectations high, I think kids will follow. Sometimes we have to change our approach and find different ways to help them reach their goal, but if you give kids positive reinforcement, they’ll give you a hard effort. You want your sons to be surrounded by positive people. It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or 30; no one likes to be hounded.

&uot;You have to have a little kid inside you,&uot; he said. &uot;Kids don’t like dictators. You expect discipline, but the kids can still have fun. When you’re enthusiastic, kids will be enthusiastic, and when you have lots of enthusiasm, you usually do well.&uot;