Third through sixth graders in Waterloo practice tackle football three days a week at Hoover Middle School.
Jesse Knight is the coordinator for the Waterloo West Junior Wahawks Program through the Youth Sports Foundation. It's not formally affiliated with Waterloo Schools, but the kids will likely go on to West High School because of where they live.
Two years ago, Jesse Knight helped start the tackle program for third and fourth graders. Last year, it merged with the existing fifth and sixth grade program. This year, the Junior Wahawks program has seven teams, more than 160 players, more than 30 coaches and 20 cheerleaders.
"Probably one of the things I'm most proud of is, not only did we get kids from the areas we expect to get kids from, but our numbers in the tougher socio-economic areas in town really grew this year," said Jesse Knight.
Parents have noticed the growth, too. This is Leigh Elliott's third season cheering on her older son.
"When Nathan started in the fourth grade, I would say it was probably half the size it is now, and Jesse's gone out of his way to get known in the community. To get parents involved, get kids involved," said Leigh Elliott.
One goal is to get the kids excited about football at an early age.
"I really like playing with my friends and hitting people," said 11-year-old Kyler Lyons.
Hitting people is part of football, which is why Jesse Knight said the role of this program is to teach proper fundamentals, like safe tackling.
Another goal is to help the students learn the value of meeting new people.
"We intentionally mix our teams up with kids from different elementary schools so you have to get to know somebody from somewhere else," said Knight.
But Knight said the most important goal of the Junior Wahawks Football Program is for the kids to have fun, with no one left on the sidelines.
Practices are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Games are played each Sunday. The fifth and sixth graders play six games. The third and fourth graders play four games.
Registration for the sport happens each spring.
Similar programs are available for students planning to attend Waterloo East and Waterloo Columbus.
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