Youth football, cheer return

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By Ken Morse and Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Excitement building for Pop Warner season

NAUGATUCK — The excitement is building for the start of the Southern Connecticut Pop Warner season.

“The players, coaches and parents are excited to be back on the field and are ready for the start of the season,” said Naugatuck Hounds administrator Paul McGrath, who is also the SCPW football commissioner.

Youth football was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the Naugatuck Hounds have three age groups for football. There are 26 players on the U12 team, 35 U10 players and 26 players on the U8 team. There is also a 5-7-year-old flag football division with 16 players split into two teams.

The Hounds also have over 60 cheerleaders split into four age divisions under the direction of Jillian Porter.

“Our numbers are average, typically where we have been at over the past few seasons,” McGrath said. “Actually our numbers were a little higher until everything got cancelled.”

“I’ve coached at Peter J. Foley and over the years we have seen a decline in numbers for youth sports in general,” he added. “But I think our numbers are good after not having a season last year, and everyone is excited to get the season started.”

The season opener is slated for this weekend with a full eight-game schedule to be announced. The Hounds play their home games at Veterans Field at Naugatuck High School. Games are played on Sundays starting at 9 a.m. with the U8 team.

Jr. Hawks future looks bright

PROSPECT — After a year filled with changes and challenges, the future looks bright for the Woodland Jr. Hawks youth football program.

The Jr. Hawks have a 14U tackle football squad, more than 100 players in its flag program, and two cheerleading teams as they prepare to start the fall season as part of the Nutmeg Youth Football League, which the program joined in 2020.

Kelly Hiltz, Woodland Jr. Hawks president and cheer coordinator, said that the organization hoped to put together a 12U tackle football team, too, but there weren’t enough sign-ups. Instead, those players will play flag football this year.

“We’ve spoken to many other towns in the area, and it seems like everyone has dwindling numbers,” Hiltz said. “We’ve entertained joining with other towns. My end goal is to get these kids to play. We’re hoping that next year, with the growth of the flag program, we will be able to go back to having two teams.”

The Jr. Hawks are also excited this year to be improving their connection with the programs at Woodland High. The Hawks’ new football coach, Joe Lato, is on the Jr. Hawks’ 14U coaching staff. There, he hopes to establish a baseline that will make football in Region 16 a consistent, six-year process like many of the state’s most competitive programs have.

“I think it’s fantastic that these kids get to learn alongside the coach that they’re going to play for when they get to high school,” Hiltz said. “He can teach them the way that he’s going to teach them at the high school level.”

The Jr. Hawks also have two cheerleading squads with a packed schedule of local, state and regional competitions — including a November regional meet at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

“We’re doing great with cheerleaders,” Hiltz said. “We’re really moving forward.”