Two Gary Pop Warner teams win state titles
By Anthony D. Alonzo Post-Tribune correspondent November 4, 2012 11:34PM
Gary Steelers junior midgets players go through warm-up exercises at their Nov. 1 practice at West Side High School in Gary. The team was one of three from the program competing on Nov. 4 for a Northern Indiana Pop Warner state title.
Updated: December 6, 2012 11:51AM
As they prepared for Sunday’s Northern Indiana Pop Warner football state championship games, Gary Steelers coaches and players shared a sense of confidence that was based on the season’s measurable progress and intangible accomplishments.
Bringing half of the Steelers program’s teams to Merrillville High School to compete in the state championship round, the Gary PW program boasted two undefeated squads — junior midgets and midgets — and the pee-wee team that went 0-6 before gaining entry to the state finals with a single tournament win.
Last year, as junior midgets, the midgets advanced to the regional but came up short due to a goal-line fumble leading to a 26-20 loss. That team, which features players that enter the season as 11- to 14-year-olds, has won due to a speedy offense and dominating defense. Only the Northlake Patriots of Hammond — their opponent on Sunday — Scored on the midgets in Northern Indiana league play.
“We’ve got a whole lot of dedicated people and young kids,” said midgets head coach Alan Gaines, a teacher at 21st Century Charter School in Gary. “A majority of our coaches have played on the Steelers before and have come back.”
Key returning offensive players include running backs Tre’vion Carlisle and Izaiah Cole. And the offensive and defensive lines are strong and well coached, Gaines said. He also pointed out the 6-foot and 1-inch, 14-year-old quarterback Canaan Cooper, who runs the no-huddle offense.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Cooper, a Thea Bowman Leadership Academy student, said. “You’ll be able to go places that you’d never be able to play at (with school programs).”
Steelers president Tony Woods said there’s continuity to the program. Players can develop through hard work and guidance from the coaches and mentors like former Gary Roosevelt standout quarterback Harrison Yancey, who shows the teams’ QBs what an accurately thrown football with a tight spiral can do for an offense.
“We’ve got some good coaches,” said Woods, who also coaches the pee-wee squad. “What it’s all about is forming these kids and getting them to buy into what you’re teaching.”
Woods shares the burden of fundraising duties for the program, along with the other coaches, players and parents. In the down economy, he said everyone has to work that much harder “tagging” for donations, and looking for support from Gary-area businesses, churches and other groups.
Parents and other supporters said the Steelers’ junior midgets team is a blended family of players; they came together to compete this year as a combination of mainly Gary youths and kids from the Michigan City area whose local program didn’t field a team for that age group. Inquisitiveness and then cooperation have marked the fusion of teammates from diverse backgrounds.
On Sunday afternoon, the junior midgets’ defense was stout against Northlake. Up 6-2 at halftime, Gary controlled the clock and sailed to 20-2 victory.
“The defense was stellar today,” said junior midgets head coach Scott Kaletha. “They filled gaps and did what they needed to do to put us in a position to win.”
The pee-wees shared the field with the older boys on a Nov. 1 practice at West Side. Though they kept the scores close in many of their games, victory eluded them for all but their last game — the 14-6 Round 1 win over Michigan City that allowed them to compete in Sunday’s state title match.
Though fans said they brought a new energy to the field because of their tournament win, they fell flat on Sunday as the 9-1 Southlake (Lowell) team blanked them 31-0.
Also on Sunday, the Gary midgets team took a 6-6 halftime tie and went on to a dominating 24-6 win over Northlake. Ronald Cambridge had two picks for the Steelers. Coach Gaines said Cooper threw accurate passes of up to 60 yards and got plenty of support from running backs Justin Boclair and John Turner.
The junior midgets look to raise funds for their sub-regional game, which is slated for the weekend of Nov. 16 in Independence, Mo. On their quest to the national championships in Florida, the midgets squad will play in Hinsdale, Ill. against a team to be determined.
For more details on the Gary Steelers visit www.garysteelerspw.webs.com.