The kids in the Turlock Youth Football League can’t help but widen their eyes when they hear names like Colin Kaepernick, Tom Brandstater and Anthony Harding — with the first two being in the NFL and Harding having played at Fresno State. That’s because they represent the ultimate success stories of the local organization.
So the kids, as young as 7, don’t mind putting on their helmets and pads in the afternoon for practices and games. For the coaches, they simply just want to teach them the basic skills of football. And this year, with the first scrimmage set for today and the first series of games scheduled for Aug. 20, the numbers at all four levels — varsity (age 12-14), junior varsity (11-12), pee wee (9-10) and rookies (7-8) — are around 30-40 players for both of the organization’s squads, the 49ers and Vikings.
Essentially, these kids will continue to play football at Pitman High and Turlock High, and perhaps beyond.
“They learn about team atmosphere,” said Joe Lewis, the TYFL president who moonlights as the varsity coach for the Vikings. “There are a lot of sports that are individualized. This helps them learn the total team aspect — a lot of discipline. It gets them ready for high school — the physical nature of high schools. I coached a couple years in high school, too, so I try to prepare them for how they’re going to be treated and how to deal with adversity.
“And to keep them out of trouble. It’s better when the kids stay busy.”
The Vikings work out at Turlock High, while the 49ers practice at Pitman High. Their practice schedules keep them busy throughout the afternoon, while parents and other supporters watch the young athletes nearby. The kids learn the fundamentals of the game, like the proper game stance, and how to treat and respect their teammates.
Most of the coaches, whose jobs are volunteer-based, have been at it for years, as some went through the TYFL themselves. Chris Camp, the varsity coach for the 49ers, has been coaching for 21 years, and his goal is to teach the kids everything he can about football and life. And the kids appreciate it.
“Exercise, team work and building confidence — that’s what we’re here for,” he said. “It’s not all about the winning. It’s about teaching the kids about life, football, respecting the parents, respecting the coaches, their teachers and their fellow classmates and other players.”
Last season, the Vikings’ pee wee team won the youth league’s Super Bowl, and the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl at the varsity, junior varsity and rookies levels.
“What’s important to me, they are learning the fundamentals of football, but at the same time, the values of life,” said Tim Roberts, the current Vikings junior varsity coach who has 18 years of experience at his position. “The more I’m out here, I’m making sure they’re getting off on the right foot. And it’s nice, as a coach, to know that they have gone off to college.”
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.