The Westside Niners youth football and cheer program is gearing up for a new season that is barely more than three weeks away.
After taking part in voluntary pre-conditioning workouts earlier in July, the squads started mandatory conditioning Monday and will start regular practices next week.
New Niners board President Jason Ebert, who has coached in the program the previous four years, said approximately 100 football players and more than 30 cheer squad members registered this year. Ebert said the turnout is comparable to that of recent years for the Niners.
Participants must complete the required conditioning days before being allowed to join regular practices, he noted.
“If you miss a mandatory conditioning day you have to make up for it. The following week, you are over on the side while the coaches are evaluating players at positions....you are missing out and behind at that point,” he explained.
Safety is a priority for the Niners and for the Trans Valley Youth Football League as a whole, Ebert told Mattos Newspapers.
Those protocols cover topics ranging from heat-related safeguards to concussions.
“Concussions are definitely the big one. The league is affiliated with USA Football, and they are very strict about tackling techniques,” Ebert explained. “We teach heads-up football, which teaches kids to tackle in a way that reduces (the concussion risk).”
Proper technique is emphasized to the point where coaches are required to demonstrate their knowledge at camps and clinics.
“We have to demonstrate that we know how to tackle properly, so they know that we can teach the kids correctly,” Ebert noted.
The Niners will field teams in four divisions, varsity, junior varsity, novice and junior novice (no scores are kept at the junior novice level).
The Niners will host a nine-team scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 13 at Orestimba High School before starting their season Saturday, Aug. 20 at Hilmar.
Ebert said he expects the Niners to be competitive on the field and in cheer competitions this season (last year, Niner cheer squads captured two championships in post-season competitions).
But the competition, and learning the fundamentals of the game, are just part of the experience he hopes to instill.
“I want them to have a good sense of team,” Ebert reflected. “We talk about being a good teammate and having a good attitude. Those things are beneficial outside of football. It is not just the sport, it is about appreciating the opportunity they have and having the right attitude about things.”
The Niner board this year includes Ebert, Don Cabral, vice president; Lupe Monroy, treasurer; Carla Mar, concessions; Lori Westbrook, fund-raising; Mike Mutoza, player safety; Jorge Garcia, football league representative; Cindy Mutoza, cheer league representative; Carlos Correia, commissioner; and Anthony Casillas, equipment manager.