Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. (PWLS) is a non-profit organization that provides youth football and cheer & dance programs across the U.S. It is also expanding around the world. Consisting of 350,000 to 400,000 young people ranging from ages 5 to 16 years old, Pop Warner is the largest youth football and cheer & dance program in the world. It holds national championships in both football and cheer & dance.
Pop Warner was founded in 1929, continues to grow and serves as the only youth football, cheerleading & dance organization that requires its participants to maintain academic standards in order to participate. Pop Warner's commitment to academics is what separates the program from other youth sports around the world.
There is also a Pop Warner Challenger Division in football and cheerleading, offered to special needs children. Challenger Division sports do not keep score, but strive to instill the traditional values of sports in the participants.
The national headquarters of Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc., can be found in Langhorn, Pennsylvania. The organization’s website, www.popwarner.com, divides the U.S. into six regions: Southeast, Mid-America, New England, Mid-South, Southwest, Eastern, Wescon and Pacific. Each region has its own website, listing activities and teams in that area.
Sports Destination Management: Pop Warner is one of the oldest sports organizations for children. What kinds of trends have you noticed over the years with regard to sports participation?
John Pruce: One thing in particular we’re seeing now is the growing level of sports specialization among children. It used to be that kids played soccer in the fall, basketball over the winter and baseball in the spring, but now you’re seeing kids enrolled in, for example, baseball programs all year-round. They are in indoor baseball over the winter, they’re in baseball in the spring – that ability to play one sport all year long is definitely a trend that we’ve noticed.
SDM: Pop Warner puts on its championships each year for cheerleading and for football. What kind of arrangements have you made for those?
Pruce: The National Championships are at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World. We are in a long-term contract with them. We also have a 2000-person scholastic banquet every May. That event moves around. In 2014, it will be held at Disney Yacht and Beach Club. In 2015, it will be held at the Hilton in San Diego. In 2016, it is at the Disney Yacht and Beach Club again, and we are currently accepting bids for 2017.
SDM: There are a lot of opportunities for children to take up different sports these days. Has participation grown or diminished for Pop Warner?
Pruce: I’d say our numbers from 2013 are even with those of 2012. They didn’t go up or down.
SDM: One of the biggest concerns in youth football – and really in a lot of sports, has been concussions. How is that affecting Pop Warner?
Pruce: Pop Warner has really been a leader in youth football safety when it comes to concussion. We led the way along with a number of other sports organizations, including US Youth Soccer, USA Hockey and NCAA to be a founding member of the National Sports Concussion Coalition. We’ve instituted a concussion rule and set of protocols, and we have changed existing rules so we can offer the safest playing environment possible. We’ve limited contact time in our practices to being only 1/3 of the total practice time. Our rule is ‘When in doubt, sit it out.’ If kids are suspected of having a concussion, they can’t come back into the game until they have a doctor’s note saying their symptoms are gone.
SDM: Is there a lot of interest among parents to sign kids up, or is it kids leading the way?
Pruce: It’s a little bit of both every year. Sometimes it’s the kids who really want to sign up and I’ve certainly talked to their parents and they’re asking a lot of questions about the sport and about the schedule and the safety. Then I talk to them two years later and they’re the most dedicated, diehard children’s football fans you’ve ever met.