Laughter, cheers, and the fresh-faced smiles of those just starting their football careers permeated the Warrior’s summer camp held at Rancho Cotate high school on Sunday, but the joy and excitement hid a troubling decline in the sport’s enrollment.
For the past few years, the Rohnert Park Warriors have had an increasingly difficult time filling their roster.
“I think it’s a case of, ‘anything else’. There’s so many options now,” said Dennis Rieger, President of North Bay Youth Football and Cheer. “Back when I was a kid and it was fall you did football and then after you had a choice between basketball or wrestling and then track or baseball in the spring. Nowadays you’ve got kids that are playing travel ball year round.”
While Rieger is glad that kids are still getting out of the house and exercising, he laments the loss of variety that travel sports force upon its players.
“All the great athletes out there? The Joe Montana’s and the Michael Jordans? They all played multiple sports. They never played one,” Rieger said. “There’s a reason why this generation has something called a ‘little league elbow’. It’s because they’ve got kids playing year round baseball.”
It’s not just the Rohnert Park Warrior’s that are suffering from the decline in signups. According to Sheri Poueu, President of Rohnert Park Football and Cheer, enrollment is down across the county. Her organization has responded by offering scholarships for students that join the Warrior’s three older leagues: pee wee, junior midget, and midget. Poueu said the scholarships would allow players to join for free.
“I was here before my kids even participated because I wanted to be part of something that I knew was going to have a positive impact on the community,” Poueu said.
While supervised by adults, the Warrior’s summer program is essentially run by the Rancho Cotate High School varsity and junior varsity players. They tutor the kids, putting them through drills and helping them with their equipment. Many of the fresh recruits have never worn shoulder pads or helmets before.
“It’s great for the kids to see them playing at the next level, knowing that they started off as little guys just like them,” said Warrior’s coach, Ryan Foiles.
That sort of idolatry within youth football is something to be encouraged, according to Rieger, as the older generation provides an example for the new.
“When you’re a kid you look up to the older ones. When you are a freshman you look up to the seniors,” Rieger said. “Football is very much a team sport and it brings out a lot of qualities…good ones…and it gives players a focus and surrounding where they can be themselves.”
It’s the teamwork and camaraderie that brings many of the players back year after year, players like Braden Davis.
“It’s like they’re my brothers,” Davis said. “They’re people I can look to—people that can help me out when I need help and people I can help when they need help. It’s the love of the sport.”
The summer camp marked the end of vacation for many of the players. For the next three weeks until the start of the school year, the Warriors begin an intense five day a week practice regiment. Their first game will be August 19th against the Santa Rosa Stallions at Montgomery High School.