TAMPA – Right now, in Carrollwood, it is Hurricane season. Soon, as summer turns to fall, Sickles High School will be invaded as player after player, parent after parent — and lots of Gatorade — descend. Welcome to Pop Warner football season.
The Carrollwood Hurricanes consist of six teams, starting off with 4 year olds and leading up to the middle school program that feeds into Alonso, Steinbrenner, Sickles, and Gaither high schools. There is also a cheerleading program.
On a pre-dusk evening in August, the kids assembled in full gear for their regular two-hour practice. There are three water breaks during the practice and any player can request water at any time. As the sun beat down at Sickles, nobody was complaining.
Joe Ludovici is the football commissioner of the Carrollwood group and said when it comes to practices, the priority is the well-being of the players.
“The kids get exhausted sometimes, but we always emphasize safety,” he said. “Nobody is going to get hurt out here.”
Pop Warner football in general, and the Hurricanes in particular, put an emphasis on safety, starting with the composition of the teams. Players are rated both on age and weight, so kids play against kids who are relatively their own size and weight, but not necessarily the same age. But there are limits.
“If the kid weighs too much, he can’t play,” Ludovici said. “We are all about safety and we aren’t going to let a 4-year-old get hit by a kid that is that much bigger than him.”
The Carrollwood program is very competitive. Its goal each year is to play in the Pop Warner Super Bowl, held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. Sure, the program hasn’t made it there yet, but Ludovici has high hopes this season. One Hurricane team won its age group’s district championship last year.
The Pop Warner leagues have taken some measures to make the game safer. Practices might last two hours, but only 40 minutes of contact drills are allowed. Ludovici said that it is just as easy to have the kids go through simulated drills as it is to have actual contact.
Another thing that sets the Carrollwood league apart is the emphasis on academics. There were seven All-American academic achievers in last year’s program and 25 more who made second-team. Anyone who is close to the 2.0 grade point line is subject to a monitoring program and report cards are mandatory before playing in a game.
Carrollwood plays at Sickles on Saturdays from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and will host a jamboree at Sickles along with other local teams Aug. 24, starting at 9 a.m.
For information on the Hurricanes, call Registrar Barbara Haight at (863) 738-4522.