posttrib
DECENT 
Weather Updates

Football: Pee wee Kougars celebrate state title

storyidforme: 58815077
tmspicid: 21406737
fileheaderid: 10070387

Updated: January 6, 2014 1:14PM



After their final game of the 2013 football season, Kankakee Valley Pop Warner’s pee wee players held their heads up. They didn’t let a loss to a team from Nebraska — the only blemish on the season — keep them from seeing their year in true perspective.

“We said it was a very good season and we ought to be proud of it,” said Reece Williams, a KV sixth-grader and a left tackle and linebacker.

Perhaps the Kougars followed the advice of the legendary author of “The Cat in the Hat.” Dr. Seuss wrote, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

These cats met their main objectives: to gel as a team, win a state championship and inspire future Kougars. The temporary sting of their 6-0 loss to the Sky Hawks of Nebraska, on a half-frozen field on Friday, quickly faded and players, coaches and fans reflected on a remarkable year.

“I’m extremely proud of these kids,” said Kougars coach and KV Pop Warner president Jeremy Swallow. “We had a total of seven football teams in the organization and I can count on one hand how many losses we had for the entire program this year.”

Going into this season, the pee wees received a boost of talent and experience when six players from the 2012 state champion junior pee wee team decided to forgo school football and stay with the PW squad, qualifying by the leagues’ “older but lighter” provision. Most of this year’s participants are in sixth grade.

Seventh grader Jaxon Grace was one of the boys who was convinced about supporting the younger team.

“Last year the junior pee wee team lost the game right before the state title game and I wanted to help them out and win state,” Grace said. “I knew they had what it takes to make it there.”

Grace and his teammates said their coaches’ back-to-basics approach to practices had them working on their blocks and coverage assignments until everyone was on the same page. Team leaders like seventh-grader Dylan Parker — a prolific quarterback that also was successful with “about 80 percent” of the team’s extra-point kicks — ran with the club’s plans.

“A big part of (our successes) was our kicking game,” said sixth-grader Chase Uylaki. “The other teams didn’t have kickers and when they scored they could only put one point on the board — we could put on two.”

Yet those points may not have been that critical when one reviews many of the 10-1 team’s results: a 20-6 win over local nemesis Boone Grove (a team that knocked KV out of the playoffs last year), a 30-0 rout of Merrillville in the state championship game, a 22-7 victory over Darien (Ill.) before their last game.

Whether playing at their home field at Kankakee Valley Middle School or throughout the Northern Indiana Pop Warner Little Scholars territory, the cardinal rule was that these pee wees were not individual stars but rather a constellation that shone brightly together.

“I think we did really well,” said Williams. “A lot of us worked as a team, so we got more things done; we all did our jobs.”

If their win over rival Boone Grove on Oct. 20 was a sign of things to come, then their win a week later over Merrillville was a confirmation of their abilities. It was also the missing piece of the puzzle from the previous year.

Coaches and players believe other kids and teens in Demotte and Wheatfield will be inspired to play Pop Warner football because of their recent success.

When coaches joked about there being “more than corn” in the rural area, some players were quick to point out what could be found there.

“Some hard-hitting kids,” Grace said.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.