By Jeff Pexton
Camden, NY – Football in America starts with small towns, on two lane roads winding through rows of corn, passing rolling hills dotted with barns and neat old houses. More often than not, these football towns are topped off by a heavy helping of tradition.
Nowhere in Upstate New York’s Tri-Valley Pop Warner Association will you find more small town football flavor than you will in Camden, New York . That’s saying a lot, because the Tri-Valley Association is home to some pretty tradition rich programs.
This afternoon in the “Queen Village of Oneida County”, Mid York Sports continued on our path of bringing our readers amateur athletics stories of interest, by checking in with the Camden Blue Devils Pop Warner Football / Cheer Association. Today, the Rome Colts came to Town for football games at the flag, mitey mites, junior pee wee and pee wee levels.
This beautiful Sunday morning started at about 8:00 a.m. for the volunteers and coaches in Camden, as the concession stand needed prepping, as did the playing surface at Camden High School. For 2nd year President John Dean, one of the first ones at the field, it’s just another Sunday doing something that he loves. “It’s all about the kids in the program” Dean told The Mid York Sports Report, “it’s long hours, hard work and a whole lot of patience, but as long as the players and cheerleaders are coming off the field with smiles on their faces, then we’re accomplishing our goal as a program”, Dean said.
“The Program”, is comprised of a large number of players, cheerleaders, coaches and volunteers, working toward the same goals, to have fun and learn the game of football and to be the best cheerleader you can be. Dean, a 3 year member of the Board of Directors, believes that it is the dedication of his fellow Board Members and 40 or so coaches and volunteers that make the difference. “Our Board is phenomenal, our coaches are phenomenal, each and every person gives 100% for the good of the kids in this organization and it shows…we may be different, but we like it that way”. The Board in Camden is made up of Dean, along with Pam Baker, Lisa Clark, Dan Christmas, Anthony Gonzalez, Emillee Austin, James Waterman, Janet Scoville and Jodie Cornish.
For John Dean, his love for the game of football resonated from the sidelines, when he was kid. “I didn’t play football, I couldn’t due to health reasons, but I was the manager of the Varsity team for 3 years in high school and I absorbed everything I possibly could about coaching, I absolutely loved it” he explained. That passion propelled Dean into an Assistant Coach position with the Camden JV Team 3 months after graduating high school. Now, John is the Modified Coach for Camden and a member of the Varsity Staff as well. “I’m just lucky my wife Kim is so supportive, she makes it possible for me to do all of this, she’s amazing”.
One thing that is consistent from one program to the next is the decreasing numbers of kids participating, because of concussion concerns among football players. “It’s definitely something we’re dealing with” said Andrew Gonzalez, Assistant Football Coordinator with Camden. “We’re keeping in tune with the Heads Up initiative by USA Football, our coaches receive the best training possible to teach proper tackling techniques and we’re doing everything we can as an organization to communicate this information to parents and players alike” Gonzalez explained, adding, “the amount of head injuries within our organization have already declined since we’ve been following the Heads Up program, things are getting better, this is such a great game”.
Andrew Gonzalez, a former Camden Football standout, who later played college football at St. John Fisher College, doesn’t have a child in the program, yet he joined his older brother Anthony on the Camden volunteer staff to give back to the program their Father, John, now deceased, helped to build. “Our Dad was a member of the chain gang for the high school team, he coached us in Pop Warner and now we’re just trying to keep everything going that so many people, including our Dad, tried to build” Andrew explained.
The family aspect of Camden football in general is very apparent by the way many Grandparents in the stands today, watched their own children come up through the ranks. One of those Grandmothers is Evelyn Gonzalez, Anthony and Andrew’s Mother. Today, Mrs. Gonzales came out, as she does for every single game, clad in her Camden football jersey, ready to cheer for her 3 grandchildren, Adam, Brian and Evan, all of whom belong to her son Anthony and playing on three different teams.
“I love football, that’s for sure and I wouldn’t miss a game” Mrs. Gonzalez said, adding “but I think what helped our boys was that we tried very hard to teach them to do things the right way, school work and grades first, then the sports after that, if you can bring me home a “B”, you can bring me home an “A” , that was our motto and it worked”.
Mrs. Gonzalez beams with pride when speaking of her sons’ (Anthony and Andrew) efforts with Camden Pop Warner, “they are just giving back as much or even more than they took out of it” she said, explaining “they genuinely care about each and every child in this program and that’s what makes Camden special, there are many others pitching in like my boys”.
As the football games progressed on the field and the cheer squads rooted on the players today, much to the delight of the family and friends in the stands, the band of volunteers were busy working, just inches below the radar. The food was great, the drinks were cold, the sideline chains moved smoothly and the National Anthem by Cecilia Mitchell was spine tingling. Did I mention the PA guy was darn near professional?
The people making all of this happen weren’t asking for recognition and they weren’t asking for a pat on the back. What they were asking for they received, about 84 times over. As the players and cheerleaders exited the field after each game, one thing was very consistent, the smiles on the faces from kid to kid.
Mission accomplished folks. It’s all worth it, so keep up the great work in Camden.