By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
On a bright, beautiful Sunday morning, a packed stadium full of fans cheered on the home football team.
Cheerleaders got the crowd pumped up, as the fans wore the colors and uniforms of the home team.
And when they scored, the stadium erupted in celebration.
Was this an NFL game, or a major college sporting event?
No. It happened right here in Crescent City. And, the players are children.
This festive atmosphere is a weekly occurrence in the fall when teams from the Del Norte Youth Football League play. The league consists of four teams, with children from 8 to 13 years old taking part. On Sunday, the first home games of the season and were played at Mike Whalen Field on the Del Norte High School campus.
And, when the teams travel to Humboldt County to play, a large contingent of fans and family members make the drive to root for the Crescent City teams.
Coaches, parents and organizers of the league agree football is a great way for these children to learn valuable skills that will serve them well throughout their life.
Respect and sportsmanship for themselves, their teammates and opponents, working hard to achieve a goal, discipline and the importance of being in shape are several of the benefits gained by playing, they say.
Also, the league is a great way to teach youngsters football and help prepare them if they choose to play in high school for the Del Norte High Warriors. Many former youth football members are now playing at the high school.
Wendy Terry, president of the league, said it's quite common during high school football games to see the children wearing Warrior uniforms, hoping to one day be on that field playing high school football.
A coach's view
Dave Smith is the head coach of the Del Norte Mavericks, which is the 11 and 12-year-old team.
For him, it's wonderful to be coaching football for the youth of the community.
As a child, Smith, who was raised in Crescent City, played football in the youth league and said he dreamed that one day he would have a chance to be a coach.
Smith said playing football has had a profound impact in his life and said he is ecstatic to be able to coach.
"It makes me feel good to be touching hearts," he said.
Last year, he achieved a career highlight when the Pony team he coached went undefeated and won the league title at the football field at Humboldt State University in Arcata.
"It was awesome," he said. "I'm still living in that dream."
Smith is helped by several assistant coaches, who he said do a great job of preparing the players for game day. He added he could not do his job without their dedication and support.
He said the discipline needed to do well in football teaches the kids the importance of hard work and working together to achieve a goal.
Making sure they are performing off the field as well, Smith has checked in with school officials and parents to make sure his players are doing well in their school work. He said he wants them to grow up to be well-rounded individuals.
Grace Bruschi, 10, is the only female member of the Del Norte Ponies Blue team and plays center.
She enjoyed playing football with her friends on the playground at school and wondered what it would be like to play in actual games, so she signed up.
While the first few weeks were a challengeshe admits it was hard to do things like leg liftsshe has gotten the hang of it and said she loves playing football with the boys.
"It's just fun," she said. "I was the only one (girl) tough enough to try out."
Fellow team member Matthew Coopman plays running back. In the first game of the season against McKinleyville, he rushed for five touchdowns.
He said it was exciting "to get away from tacklers and run hard," into the end zone.
While it was fun to score, Coopman said he realizes he could not have done what he did without the help of his teammates.
"If you didn't have a team you would always get tackled," he said.
His dad, Mike Coopman, is the head coach of the team and has coached in the league for four years.
It's a huge responsibility to know that he is teaching them "the first steps" in learning the game of football, he said.
Coopman said he and his coaching staff work hard to teach them the fundamentals and to "always give 110 percent, win or lose."
"These are my kids," he said. " I feel a lot of responsibility to them."
Recently, Coopman ran into a player he taught as a 10-year-old, who now plays freshman football for the Warriors, who came up to him and said Coach, how are you doing?'"
Coopman said he feels a huge sense of pride knowing he has helped "make a difference in their lives."
Cori Allen has twin 13-year-old sons who play for the Del Norte Mustangs, and have played youth football for a number of years. She said she loves the friendships she and her boys have developed and said it's always exciting and nerve-racking to watch them play.
"I can barely watch when it's a close game," she said. "It's always very exciting."
Allen said she likes that her boys are members of a close-knit team and that they realize they have to be disciplined and perform well in other parts of their lives if they want to play footballsuch as doing well at school and doing their chores at home.