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Vision challenge doesn’t stop NFM Pop Warner player
By Chuck Ballaro ([email protected]), North Fort Myers Neighbor - FULL ARTICLE HERE

Wyland Way, like every member of the North Fort Myers Pop Warner Junior Midget program blocks, runs sprints and other drills.

Observant fans might notice a few additional details - his teammates talking to him before plays and, every once in a while, some assistance with positioning.

Wyland is legally blind but he neither brooks nor needs any sympathy.

In his first year playing Pop Warner football, he has had a blast playing the game and plans to continue playing into high school and maybe beyond.

He enjoys the camaraderie with his teammates, who have taken him in, shown him the ropes, and made him a Red Knight.

Wyland has also been an inspiration to his teammates. No longer do you hear them complain about aches and pains when their teammate is playing with a serious vision impairment without complaint.

"I've coached a lot of kids with a lot of different things. We've never coached a blind kid. The kids have taken him under their wing and made him part of the family," Junior Midget coach Christopher Reeves said.

Wyland's parents sensed something was wrong shortly after his first birthday when he dropped his binky on the floor and had to feel around to find it.

A doctor diagnosed him and the parents were told he was going to go completely blind. He would have to go to special schools to learn how to live with blindness.

"I learned I had it when I was 3. Ever since then it's been a problem," Wyland said.

It was later discovered that he wasn't blind and wasn't necessarily going to become blind. His life was going to be limited, to an extent, but he wasn't looking at a life of darkness.

He was diagnosed with Leber's, a genetic eye condition passed from the mother to the offspring that leads to loss of sight.

Wyland has 20/200 vision, which is legally blind. He can make out visions of people and colors, and some days he does a little better. But usually, he's very shortsighted. When you shake his hand you usually have to tell him you're sticking your hand out.

"I can see better out of the side of my eye. I can see the guy on each side of me. I can also see the guy in front me, but not as good," Wyland said.

Night is the worst time for sight, especially on this night where practice was held at the First Methodist Church in Fort Myers (the community park field was flooded), which has no lights. His father brought along to practice a set of lights, which Wyland's grandfather gave him, that he pulls with his truck, with a generator, to help Wyland see.

"He'll never be able to drive a car or catch a football, but he can get around bodies. He can see the image of a different colored jersey and some days he can see us," Charles, Wyland's father, said. "But some days he can walk up to us and it might take a few minutes to figure out who is who."

Wyland wasn't happy just sitting at home. He wanted a challenge.

"I've always wanted to play football, but I had to play flag because they didn't want me to get blindsided. Finally, my parents said I could play because I was big enough to where if I got hit, the doctors said it wouldn't take out my vision."

"I met his dad at the parents meeting. He wanted to try football and his parents said he could give it a shot," Reeves said.

"Everybody else was doing it and he wanted to be like anyone else and we never told him he could play. Finally, we let him," Charles said. "I played football, his uncles and cousins played football."

The only position he could play was the interior line, where he would be in close quarters with his opponents.

Reeves decided he wasn't going to tell the players that Wyland was blind until it was time to start practicing in pads.

Some of the kids figured it out or already knew, but when Reeves told the team, they thought it was pretty cool and adopted him as one of their own.

It has created some challenges.

During blocking drills his teammates had a tendency to take it easy on him, which Reeves stopped in a hurry.

It also means a different way to communicate. The team uses signals from the sidelines, which Way can't see. His teammates have to tell him where to block and where the opponents are.

"They tell me to go left, right, straight, what the count is. They tell me there's a lineman in front of me," Way said. "They seem fine with it. I hope I inspire them."

His hard work has shown. Wyland has lost 14 pounds and gained plenty of muscle in his short time on the team. He hustles in every drill and during sprints. Even though he does lag behind his more experienced players, the maximum effort shows.

Josh Varner, one of Wyland's teammates, said playing with Wyland is inspiring as he gives his all in practice and is doing what he loves.

Josh was also the person in his ear during drills.

"I tell him to keep pushing hard. He's doing well and maybe I help him a little. I like to motivate him," Josh said. "I hope the other players are inspired."

Wyland isn't a starter yet. He plays the minimum amount of plays required by Pop Warner. In his first play of his first game against North Port, Wyland got a lesson the hard way, getting drilled by a Mustang player.

Wyland smiled, and hasn't stopped grinning since beginning to play. Besides, the Red Knights won.

"It was one of the most fun things I've ever done. The first play I didn't see the guy in front of me because my teammate forgot to tell me and I got knocked over," Wyland said.

Wyland hopes he can continue his football odyssey, maybe even play in college.

After watching him on the field, Charles believes his son can do anything he sets his mind to.

"He is my inspiration. I do everything for him. He's the reason our lives aren't crazy. We do everything for him so he can do the best he can do," Charles said.

North cheer low in numbers, high in talent
By CHUCK BALLARO ([email protected]), North Fort Myers Neighbor

In many ways there's more pressure being a Pop Warner cheerleader than a football player.

Football players have eight games. If they lose one game, there's always the next one, with the playoffs still a possibility if you're good enough.

For a cheerleader, an entire season can come down to a single 2:30 routine in October, with a single blunder ending your season in a blink of an eye.

The North Fort Myers Pop Warner cheer program handled the pressure well, winning the program's first ever national championship last year in the Junior Pee-Wee division and sending two other teams to nationals.

This season, like last season, the numbers are a little lower than organizers would like, which is at about 80. But the Red Knights will field six squads, with the hopes of more national championships still buzzing in their heads.

"We had such an exciting year last season. We received a lot of new girls this year and many of them came back so we have a nice blend," said Cricket Kelly, cheer coordinator. "I see more new girls this year, which is great."

The Junior Pee-Wees won in Level 1 small group, with 11 members, so it wasn't the size that mattered.

On Aug. 1, the first day of practices, it was back to square one with the kids doing conditioning and the very basic cheer moves, with the coaches giving a keen eye toward perfection.

"It's skill progression. We start with the basics and see what skills the girls come into the program with and we build on that in practice," Kelly said.

By late October, at the Peace River Conference Cheer-off, the teams will add stunts, dancing and a myriad of things. Despite having small teams, Kelly said they should be able to do full pyramids.

Jennifer Hardman, Junior Pee-Wee coach, said they team was starting from scratch, with eight new members. The big thing is getting them into condition.

"We need to work them out, stretch them out and then we'll begin teaching them. We have a progression list of stunting and tumbling and jumping," Hardman said. "We give them the skills and once the routine is choreographed we start putting in the eight counts and show them what to do."

If the newbies needed any inspiration, they needed to watch Brooke Malone and Sarah Kelly, who won national championships last year.

"I feel confident, hopeful and happy I'm doing this. We worked as a team last year and so far it looks the same," Malone said.

Kelly showed up for practice with a gold "National Champion" ribbon in her hair, her pride in being the program's first champion obvious.

"I was excited to be the first team to be national champions. Me and the new girls were having fun in warm-ups," Kelly said.

And when it's time to perform, Kelly has advice for the girls when there are thousands of girls watching.

"Performing is hard because it puts pressure on the girls. Some of them forget what to do and those who don't do well lose their facials," Kelly said. "Pretend the crowd isn't there and that you're on the football field."


Edgerrin Tyree James is a Pop Warner success story.  The soft spoken and very humble athlete, has proven that hard work and determination will allow you to achieve your goals.

Born August 1, 1978, ironically the opening day for Pop Warner season, in Immokalee, Florida (located in the Peace River Conference), Edgerrin was one of five children. 

From a very early age, Edgerrin developed a love of football.  He played pick-up games with friends on the street and nearby fields.  His idol at a very young age was Walter Payton.  Edgerrin used to study videotapes of the Chicago Bears star, then imitate his moves against real opponents. 

At the age of 8, he joined the local Pop Warner Association, Immokalee Braves (now the Immokalee Indians).  Though he played a little bit of linebacker, Edgerrin has always been a running back.  Having tremendous speed, he dominated from the start.  Before long game day was named the "Edgerrin James Show".

When asked how playing Pop Warner prepared him for his football career, Edgerrin responded that Pop Warner allowed him to learn skill sets at an early age, and game him an understanding of the game.  The age and weight divisions in Pop Warner allows players of the same size and age to learn the game without the intimidation of players that are much bigger, older or stronger.

In 1996, a senior at Immokalee High School, Edgerrin was one of the finest runners in the state.  At six feet tall, he was a powerful running back with breakaway speed.  He also played linebacker and kicker.  That year he was named a Parade All-American.

Edgerrin was recruited out of high school by the University of Miami.  He proved to be one of the most successful running backs in the school's history.  He ranks third in all-time University of Miami rushing yards. He was the only running back in the university's history to post two consecutive seasons with 1,000-plus rushing yards, and he ranks first in school history with the most 100-plus rushing games (14).

Edgerrin was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame on April 23, 2009 at its 41st Annual Induction Banquet at Jungle Island in Miami.

The Indianapolis Colts selected James in the first round of the 1999 NFL draft with the fourth overall pick.  James was an immediate success, and was named the 1999 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. James won the NFL rushing title in his first two seasons. He's the most recent player to win the NFL rushing title in his rookie season.
James left Indianapolis as their all time leading rusher with 9,226 yards. James was given a Super Bowl ring from the Colts after he left the team in 2006, when they won Super Bowl XLI.

In 2006, Edgerrin signed with the Arizona Cardinals.  In 2009, the mother of his four children died of Cancer.  Edgerrin asked to be released from the team so he could be with his children.

Edgerrin played one season with the Seattle Seahawks and then retired from football in 2011.

On September 23, 2012, James was inducted into the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor during the week 3 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Edgerrin will be the Head Coach for his 11 year old sons JPW team at the South Central Tigers Association in the Mid-Florida League.  As a coach, he wants to teach those same skill sets and work ethics that he felt were so important his early Pop Warner years.

When asked what advice he had for young athletes, his response was quick "The map is there.  If you are good enough you can get what you want.  You need to work hard and follow the route."

Edgerrin has worked hard for all he has achieved.  But the most memorable part of his career is "Being able to give back to my family and friends who supported me and stood by me as I accomplished my dreams."

Lee County Warriors Bring NFL FLAG Football to South Georgia

The goal was to fill the gap from Nov until our first practice on Aug 1st. NFL flag football is our vehicle to keep our kids focused on academics in the off-season while having fun playing the game we all love.

Recently the Warriors NFL FLAG teams joined with the TROJAN Varsity coaches and players from the local high school. The mission was to use our high school student athletes as mentors for our Pop Warner athletes.

We wanted to encourage our local youth to be positive and confident as they prepare to take the Georgia Milestone test this week.

The Varsity players met in small groups with our youth and discussed things like Respect, Accountability, and Hard Work!

Thanks to Coach Pych (Lee County Trojans) and all of our Lee County Warriors Pop Warner volunteer!!

Gainesville Gator Midgets cheer coach teaches skills to win, sportsmanship
By Melissa Mihm, Correspondent - The Gainesville Sun

For a cheerleading coach, Beverly Perry has a voice that is unexpectedly soft and sweet.

That voice, however, led the Gainesville Gator Midgets to national championships at the 2014 Pop Warner Cheer and Dance competition and guided them to the “Spirit of Sportsmanship” award — which Perry holds dear.

Others have recognized Perry’s special qualifications and honored her with the 2014 Southeast Region Pop Warner Female Coach of the Year award.

On the organization’s website, there is a picture of Perry holding her award and looking the same way she does when she talks about her cheerleaders. Her face is lit up, her smile wide.

“I like seeing the growth of the girls,” she said. “I like to see them grow in the sport, but also as young ladies.”

Born in Lacrosse and raised in Alachua County, Perry, 60, has always been interested in athletics. Growing up, she watched almost every sport imaginable. She just liked seeing people do well, she said.

About 30 years ago, her daughter developed an interest in cheerleading. After the coach quit mid-season, Perry was asked to take over. She accepted, and she has never looked back.

Perry, a receptionist for the Alachua County Parks and Recreation Department, isn’t coaching this year. Instead, she is serving as a coordinator for the Putnam Athletic League.

But the thrills of last year’s national championship run are still fresh.

Before the regional competitions last year, she said, one of the seven members of the team left. That meant the remaining six cheerleaders were missing a piece of their intricate routine’s puzzle.

Perry and the girls had to create and learn a new 90-second routine in a few weeks. But the girls united and together with Perry’s coaching, they succeeded.

Perry vividly remembers when her team competed in the national championship round. The girls wore bright orange and white uniforms with colorful feathery tutus. They wore big glittery bows on top of their curly hair.

She was sitting in the stands and when the organizers were about to announce the winner, she began slapping the knee of a young man sitting next to her.

“I’m usually about to pass out (during competitions),” she said.

After her team won first place, Perry gave them all big hugs and cried. She said she always cries when they make her proud.

While Perry has plenty of plaques and glittery trophies to mark her success as a cheerleading coach, she said the real reward is seeing the girls grow into responsible young women.

Keondra BrownDashian’s daughter Keazia Bass has been cheering with the Gainesville Gators since 2010, and was coached by Perry in 2013.

At first, Keazia wanted to join cheerleading because it was a popular sport, BrownDashian said. But after joining the squad, she began to take it seriously.

“She was like a mentor to a lot of the girls,” BrownDashian said of Perry. “She taught them the importance of positivity, to believe in themselves, to always act like a lady and how to work together as a team.”

BrownDashian, also a coach, worked closely with Perry in 2013. The next year, Perry asked her to be an association coordinator for Gainesville. In that position, BrownDashian was able to learn the ins and outs of coaching from Perry.

“I feel she won the coach of the year award because no one is as dedicated to the program as she is,” BrownDashian said. “I have never seen someone who knew the Pop Warner rule book as well as she did.”

But Perry’s coaching goes far beyond the sport. She teaches the girls life lessons and manners, to hold the door for people, to say “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am.” She teaches them to be kind.

Perry describes herself as a “mother figure, a counselor, a teacher, a taxi.”

If the girls argue, Perry makes sure it is settled, so “we can go back to business.”

When she first meets her cheerleaders, Perry hands out a piece of paper asking what their favorite things are and what they like to do.

She also gave her cheerleaders a black and white journal with bright orange trim for them to write about what they learned and to reflect. They then give the journals back to Perry and she carefully reads each entry.

“Getting to know the girls will tell you how to act or respond,” she said. “Some of the girls may not get a kind word from anyone but you.”

Perry said there are 15 words she lives by: adrenaline, agility, dedication, diligence, discipline, endurance, energy, intensity, performance, power, speed, strength, success, talent and teamwork.

“All those words mean championship,” she said. “If you can work hard, you can achieve.”

Hollie Hancock from the First Coast Conference

Hollie started cheering in 6th grade in 2002 and was on the only team from Jax Beach that didn't make it Regionals (out of 7 teams).  She cheered until 10th grade in 2006- and never got better than10th place at Regionals.  She was a student demonstrator in 11th grade in 2007- moved up to 8th place, Coach Trainee in 12th grade in 2008- placed 6th- all with Jax Beach.  Hollie went to college in 2009 at Santa Fe College in Gainesville and coached at Santa Fe PW 2 years- 2009 (13th at Regionals) and 2010 (7th place).

She came back to Jacksonville in 2011 and coached Jax Beach. The summer before the 2011 season, she attended the first SE Region Cheer Convention.  That year she set a goal to place in the top 5 at Regionals and bring home a Regional trophy. She exceeded her goal, as her Pee Wee team came in 3rd at Regionals.  Hollie attended the Cheer Convention again in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, her new goal was to get 1st or 2nd at Regionals and advance to Nationals. She coached JM, medium level 1 and got 1st place at First Coast competition, 2nd place at Regionals and 5th at Nationals.  She upholds the scholastics associated with Pop Warner, even leaving Nationals to take a Final Exam for school herself.

In 2013, her very small JM team of 8 girls got 1st at First Coast competition, 1st place at Regionals and 2nd place at Nationals.  Her teams have participated in Year Round the last 4 years and placed very well there as well.  Hollie is coaching the level 3 MM squad at Jax Beach for 2014 and loves cheering for games, as well as competition.

She credits her success to being mentored by other coaches at more successful programs and the annual Coaches Convention. She shares her knowledge with other coaches in the First Coast and Southeast Region. Other coaches within the First Coast Conference confide in Hollie for advice. She is always willing to help anyone in any way. She is certainly a role model for both the kids and other coaches.


Southeast Region Pop Warner

Dean Prince 

Pop Warner
Pop Warner Cheer