Camaraderie is the big draw

Football: The Trojans organization fielded seven teams and a cheerleading program this fall, all under the guidance of a dedicated group of adult volunteers.

Howard At Play

October 21, 2001|By Gary Davidson | Gary Davidson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

All around Schooley Mill Park in Fulton this month, trees were showing color, but another sign of autumn was just as evident - football.

Simultaneous games on two fields had clusters of parents, siblings and friends watching and cheering as youth teams in red and black uniforms and helmets competed with visitors from East Baltimore, Randallstown and other parts of greater Baltimore. Pads on each goal post declared this to be "Trojan Country."

Six games from early morning into afternoon that day were testimony that in soccer-crazy Howard County, good old American football prospers.

One of three youth football organizations in the county - along with the Columbia Bulldogs and the Columbia Community Church Warriors - the Howard County Trojans are suiting up a record 184 boys for their seven age-group teams this fall. And commissioner Rob Wagner of Columbia says there would be more, but the club had to put 25 boys on waiting lists because of the cost involved.

A youth is charged $90 a year for football (or for a separately administered cheerleading program with 80 participants). For the second and third children from a family, the club grants a $10 discount; the fourth or more from the same family play free.

It costs $169 to outfit a football player and $239 to stage a game. Needing to regularly service and inspect its football equipment for safety, Wagner said, the club is operating at capacity.

As in any youth organization, the Trojans' backbone is adult volunteers. Wagner and his wife, Karin, (their son Justin, 11, plays quarterback and safety, and daughter Claryssa, 12, has four years of cheering) put in 15 to 20 hours a week from June to November. That doesn't include home games, when more volunteers must be organized to set up the fields and concessions.

"We enjoy being involved. It shows good leadership for our children," Wagner said. "Hopefully, we set an example for other parents to get involved. And it just builds a better program for the kids by being involved. It's frustrating at times, but the majority of time - even though we're working hard at it - it's fun."

While many might think the Baltimore Ravens' success increased interest in football, Wagner thinks that while it hasn't hurt, the main cause is the infectious camaraderie of young boys.

"There's a lot more interest, mainly because a lot of the kids see the unity our football players have," Wagner said. "A lot of them, when they come to school, they wear their uniforms - they're a group. They clique together, a common interest. It's good for the kids. It gives them friends."

The Trojans, part of the Maryland Football Association, are affiliated with the national Pop Warner youth football organization.

Each team has a head coach, four assistants and an administrator. All have, or had, sons playing.

"I wanted my son to have good instructional coaching in football," said Ellicott City's Julius Warner, a former Morgan State player who coaches his son on the Mighty Mite A team. "Each coach has the same idea I do."

Each coaching staff has its own playbook and, as daylight shortens, more and more practices occur in darkness.

"Our motivation is to get the kids out here, teach them the sport, let them have some fun, and if it takes them into a college and a scholarship, then great," Wagner said.

"Our main objective is to keep them out of trouble. One of the main things we stress is schoolwork. If they don't do well in school, they can't play football. We stress for them to ... do what their parents tell them to do."

Warner's Mighty Mites, an instructional team that plays with coaches on the field, turned heads this fall with a winning record, an explosive offensive and a blitzing defense. Their last league game was yesterday, although other Trojan teams still face Pop Warner playoffs that eventually produce national age-group titlists.

"We get to sack people a lot, but I don't like when we lose games," said Dwayne Medley, 9, a 4-foot-7, 73-pound linebacker and tight end. "Most of all, the offense works hard, and we score a lot of touchdowns and everybody was proud of us."

And, of course, leading every successful team is a flashy quarterback.

"It's been great because I've been working all year-round," said Christopher Hairston, 9, who at 4-6 and 70 pounds also plays safety. "I like being QB because I like running the ball, doing dekes and faking out the defense. I throw pretty far for my age. Trojan pride - that's like being brave and don't be chicken."

Trojan teams

Here's how Howard County Trojans teams are aligned using age and weight as placement criteria:

Team Ages Weights

Midgets 11-14 95-145

Junior Midgets 10-12 80-125

Peewees 9-11 70-110

Junior Peewees 8-10 55-95

Mighty Mites* 7-9 45-85

Flag football 5-7 ---

* Two teams

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