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Pop Warner Safety First!Initiative

The Pop Warner organization has been around for over 80 years and now offers programs for young football players as well as those interested in cheer and dance. With the recent concerns over concussions and other serious injuries in football, Pop Warner programs around the country have implemented safety protocols to reduce those injuries. The worries about concussions are now shifting to cheerleading and Pop Warner programs are responding to the increasing pressures.

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The Beginnings Of The Pop Warner Organization

Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, the namesake of the grand organization that is Pop Warner was a legendary college football coach in the early 1900s. He won 319 games, won four national championships, and brought several innovations to the game of football before being elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

In 1929 a young man named Joe Tomlin wanted to create a youth sports organization to help stop the increasing youth vandalism in Philadelphia. The organization, run and funded by local Philadelphia businessmen, grew to 16 teams and 800 youth by 1933. That same year, Tomlin asked several area football coaches to come and speak to his organization. Only Warner, who coached at nearby Temple University at the time, showed up. After his appearance that evening, the youth football league took on Warner’s name and the organization was born.

Pop Warner Spirit Program

Cheerleading was officially recognized as a sport in the 1970s and, for several decades now, has been a part of the Pop Warner organization. Roughly 180,000 youth between the ages of 5 and 16 participate in Pop Warner Cheer & Dance. With the popularity of cheerleading and dance increasing around the country, Pop Warner now holds an annual national championship in early December. The 2014 event once again will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

Pop Warner Football

More than 250,000 participate in Pop Warner football and the number continues to grow. There are seven different age and weight classifications beginning with the Tiny Mites, ages 5 through 7 and progressing through the Unlimited Division for those aged 11 through 14 who weigh over 105 pounds. Players are grouped with others who are similar in age and weight. The classification system helps to minimize the risk of injury. The Pop Warner Spirit program follows the age classifications of the football programs with which they are associated.

The Incidence Of Injury In Pop Warner Cheer

While the issue of concussion is prevalent in most sports, the incidence of all injuries in Pop Warner cheer is relatively low. Recent studies show that per 100,000 participants the number of injuries is just 2.0. This is significantly lower than sports such as gymnastics. Between 1990 and 2005, there were 425,900 injuries to children between the ages of 6 and 17 who were treated for a gymnastics injury, a rate much higher than Pop Warner cheer. In fact, the number of injuries in gymnastics rivals those of sports like hockey, soccer, and basketball where there is much more physical contact with other athletes.

Pop Warner’s Safety First! Initiative

Over the past decade, the Pop Warner organization has instituted its Safety First! Program to help minimize the incidence of injury. Using tips provided by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, Pop Warner cheer & dance, as well as football, adhere to a set of safety guidelines that has helped to cut the number of sport-related injuries.

All practices and events must have at least one person who is certified in CPR or has been certified by the National Center for Sports Safety. Coaches make sure that their athletes are properly conditioned and take great care in the warmup and cool down of their players. Teams must always have the proper equipment. For cheer and dance teams, that means have the appropriate mats and padded flooring which must be the proper size for the activities that will be performed. Coaches must review all safety guidelines and communicate these safety issues to their other coaches and their athletes.

The Safety First! initiative is similar to the guidelines established by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches & Administrators (AACCA). Coaches must be properly trained and practice sessions must be supervised by a coach. All squads must follow a comprehensive strength and conditioning program as well as proper warm ups and cool downs before and after individual workouts. Much of what the Pop Warner organization does with the Spirit program is being done at high schools and colleges around the country.

The Uniqueness Of Pop Warner

Pop Warner sports programs will continue to grow regardless of concerns over injuries. The Pop Warner programs in football and cheer & dance are the only of their kind that require academic success in order to participate. All athletes must maintain certain academic standards in order to play. While the organization stresses the learning of proper sport fundamentals, it also emphasizes the importance of education. The organization continues to not only promote sports, but also helps in the building of character in today’s youth.

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Author: Rick Bouch

Rick Bouch is a former college and professional football player and former sports journalist for several publications.  He currently is a freelance sports writer covering national sports news.

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