JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The coronavirus did its best to knock the Pop Warner football season off track, but two area teams are still going strong in December.
On Sunday in Central Florida, a pair of local squads will begin their pursuit to bring championships back to the area.
The Forestview Outlaws mitey mites are playing in the semifinals for the second time since 2015. The Westside Wildcats junior peewees are looking to bolster a growing national profile with another trip into the final four.
Westside (10-0) will face the Gary (Indiana) Steelers in the Mid-America/Southeast semifinals on Sunday at 11 a.m. in St. Cloud. Forestview (10-0) will face the LaPorte (Indiana) Slicers at 4 p.m. in Winter Garden. Victories in those games will send them on to championship matches on Wednesday.
It’s a much different season for Pop Warner in general. The national championship, typically held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports compound, was canceled due to COVID-19, with only the national cheerleading competition going forward. But select regions of Pop Warner put together their own year-ending event and set the table for a modified championship tournament.
“To these kids, they are champions regardless of COVID-19 [changing things],” said Shawn Fountain, head coach of the Westside Wildcats. “That’s all that matters to me. They’ve had a full season and now they’ll have the experience of going out of town and having that experience of playing for a championship.”
It took quite a bit of fundraising in a short window of time to be able to pull off such a big trip for two dozen players, but Fountain said numerous businesses chipped in, sponsors stepped up and parents went into fundraising mode.
Once the teams arrive in central Florida, it’s all about two things — playing football and being able to experience times with family and teammates.