Pop Warner football: Valparaiso headed to Orlando
By Anthony D. Alonzo Post-Tribune correspondent November 24, 2012 11:18PM
Valparaiso Pop Warner mitey mites football players listen to their coaches during a practice at Valparaiso High School on Nov. 16. The team accepted an invitation to play an exhibition game and represent the Mid-America region at the ESPN complex near Orlando, Fla on Dec. 1.
Updated: December 26, 2012 9:50AM
Vikings mitey mites football players have displayed a hustle in chilly late-fall practices that could give the impression that they’re readying to conquer the playoffs en route to a championship.
At the 9- and 10-year-olds age level, however, there usually is no postseason in Pop Warner; the only way to make it to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla., is by “invitation only.” And the Valparaiso program got that exclusive call.
Selected as one of 16 teams from across the country to play in a series of exhibition games during the opening of the Pop Warner Super Bowl week on Dec. 1, the Vikings feel fortunate to represent the Mid-America region.
“It’s very good luck, but I believe you make your own luck,” mitey mites head coach Erik Olson said.
The Vikings name was literally drawn from a hat filled with teams that submitted petitions to go to the nationals.
“Playoffs?” former Colts coach Jim Mora once asked astonishingly at a press conference. Yes, Olson is convinced that Pop Warner will eventually expand the postseason to include teams younger than the current cut-off at the junior pee wee level.
“(Pop Warner) may make this level of football competitive so that you’ll have to win, win, win to go (to Florida),” said Olson.
Finishing 5-2 on their season, the Vikings mitey mites have been taking care of things on the field during evening practices under the lights — and in what feels like winter temperatures.
“I don’t notice it so much because I’m running,” explained Carter Kosiara, a running back and middle linebacker. “(Lately) we’ve done lots more running.”
The Valparaiso youth was with his team practicing on the Valparaiso High School field, hoping that he’d get the call for a “22”, or running play, that would send him between the guard and the center. He said he converts his “anger” from getting hit by other players into energy to dash up the field.
Working with assistant coaches Mike Kwiatkowski and James Shepard, backup quarterback and “everywhere except tailback” player Matthew Olson agreed that his team is ready to utilize its strengths for its special invitation.
“Most of the time we run up the gut,” Matthew said. “And usually we don’t have that many fast people that can get to the outside, but I think we can do good up the middle.”
Since the Valparaiso PW organization was founded in 2005, it’s become one of the region’s biggest programs. More than 300 Vikings athletes take the field on any given fall weekend.
Olson likes the way the Vikings program works. He said winning is secondary to teaching life skills. Club officials have resisted “stacking” the teams, as some programs are known to. His mitey mites, for example, are simply known as “MM2,” and garner as much support as the MM1 team.
While many people are working on their Christmas gift lists, mitey mite players have dressed in their uniforms and have collected donations at the local Kmart. They’ve also set aside money for their Florida jaunt from a spaghetti fundraiser that was attended by VHS players as well as Valparaiso mayor Jon Costas.
Valparaiso Pop Warner is also celebrating its junior midgets cheer team’s recent regional win. The squad will travel with the football team to compete in nationals.
For more information about Valparaiso Pop Warner, call Ruth Anne Olson at 548-8336, or visit www.vpwls.org