Out of town youth football kits tournaments are an excellent end of season treat for many youth football teams. Pop Warner, AYF and other organizations have regional and national title programs that are the goal of many youth football coaches in those leagues.
When I played youth football, our team traveled to Las Vegas, Kansas City, Nashville and Atlanta to play in tournaments. It was a great way to see how we stacked up to competition outside Nebraska. I still can recall those memories, losing just one of those games in overtime in Las Vegas to an all-star team from California.
What are these tournaments like and as a youth football coach should my teams play in one? Coaching youth football means having a lot of influence on deciding to take these games or not.
There are more independent youth football organizations than Pop Warner and AFL combined and the independents play in various youth football tournaments throughout the USA. The tournaments vary in size and quality as does anything in life. That is one of the big advantages of the Pop Warner National Tournament, you know that the weekend will be a quality event and the rules will be enforced.
Most of these tournaments are done over the Thanksgiving Holiday and your team plays 2-3 games. Your football team is put in a bracket based on pre-set age and sometimes weight restrictions. Most tournaments have gone to unlimited weight with running back weights, with a few still having some total weight restricted divisions. The tournament host then puts teams into brackets based on record, perceived strength, historical league strength, coach preference, average age and sometimes average weight is considered as well. Most tournaments have very heavy restrictions as to verification of birth certificates and roster (no all-star teams) and most do weigh-ins the day of the games.
Back in my day, we lived in a different society and lived under different rules. We would play youth football teams from all over the country right here in Omaha at seasons end. The opposing players would stay in our homes during their stay.Our family made some life long friends through this process. I will never forget flying to Las Vegas in 1973, this being the first exciting plane ride for about 90% of our players.
Staying with families gave us a chance to bond with the other players and experience how they lived. In 1972 my team partner Joe Dukich and I got to stay with a black family in Kansas City and made some great friends. Of course in today’s world, staying with families to get this type of experience and save money on hotel costs would be out of the question.
Since then, my personal youth football teams have played in tournaments in Iowa, Kansas, Omaha and Kearney Nebraska and Florida. Where we played had a lot to do with how much money we had available, as traveling costs a lot of money. Back when I played, we sold raffles and would go out in groups on Friday and Saturday nights to local bars and bowling alleys to sell tickets. Each player had a quota to sell and the coaches got sponsors as well, again a different era, different rules. But of course there were no lodging or food expenses back then due to the players staying with host families, so we didn’t have to raise as much money.
My personal teams have not been able to play in the big Florida Thanksgiving tournaments based on several factors, one being money. The other is daylight savings time hits the first week in November or so and that means it gets dark around here at 5:30. We have never had a practice field with lights and we often see very cold temperatures and even snow at that time of year. The only time we could practice would be on weekends or in gyms. Gyms aren’t the best places to have a football practice and it’s also the time most basketball teams here start gearing up. We have not been able to secure gym time from any of the public schools in the area and even if we did, you can’t run your football plays all out in a gym.
Based on these factors, we have been limited to youth football tournaments that are earlier than Thanksgiving like the ones in Omaha, Council Bluffs Iowa, Kansas City Kansas (Johnston County) and the Snapper Bowl in Panama City Florida. The Omaha tournament is put on by a very sharp person “John” from Omaha’s Nebraska Midget Football League. It is very well run and organized and runs over a weekend. This youth football league invites teams from their league and others in the Midwest to participate. We are quite often the only local team not from their league invited to participate. We have won that tournament’s “A” Division Title a number of times.
Monte O’Hara runs a very nice tournament with outstanding sportsmanship, officiating and pagentry, in Council Bluffs, Iowa with some games played at the University of Nebraska at Omaha stadium with field turf and under the lights. We have always done real well there as well and are often the only Nebraska team invited to play. The Lil Vikes tournament in Omaha is one we won several times and had great experiences 3 of the 4 years we played and were the only Omaha team outside their league invited on several occasions. The Kearney, Nebraska tournament was a great experience, with the opposing team taking our kids on a hayrack ride and even taking up a collection for us at the church services we shared. We won that one in the sleet and the pictures of our kids and theirs arm in arm after the game, all smiles covered in slush is one for the ages.