Pee-wee football preps young Wildcats

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Lockwood running back David Spillman escapes the diving tackle attempt from Zia Elementary’s C.J. Gutierrez in Saturday’s first- and second-grade youth football game.

Kevin Wilson

There’s a reminder at 2 p.m. every Saturday of what it once was. But the Clovis youth football league is liking the present pretty well.

Nearly 275 Clovis youth donned purple and white jerseys on Saturday, taking part in the weekly slate of pee-wee football games

The games run from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the city field on 14th Street, located between the Guy Leeder Softball Complex and Dickenson Little League Field.

The league charges $1 at the gate for fans, and either $125 (equipment supplied) or $100 for registration (player already has equipment).

But director Mike Muscato points out that the 17 teams all receive personalized jerseys, pads and new Riddell helmets.

“For $125, they wear $250 in equipment,” Muscato said, gesturing to a new helmet with Under Armour straps. “The money we collect, we put back into the league.”

The league took a new shape after last season, when former director Sammy Herrera created a new league with teams from communities surrounding Clovis.

Now both leagues are successful, Muscato said, and their paths cross for the 2 p.m. game. The leagues have an odd number of teams in the fifth- and sixth-grade division, so a team from the Texas/New Mexico league comes back for a game against the Wildcats.

That’s another thing. They’re all Wildcats now, since it’s a Clovis league.

“Teams are set by their schools, so there’s no stacking of the teams,” Muscato said. “Our games are pretty well balanced. A big deficit is 12-14 points.”

The teams are divided into three age groups — first- and second-grade tackle, second- and third-grade tackle and fifth- and sixth-grade tackle. By the time the kids are too old to play, they’re on to junior high (Muscato is a seventh-grade coach at Marshall), and they know the Wildcat offensive and defensive schemes. Muscato said Clovis coaches Eric Roanhaus and Darren Kelley work with the league and David Briseno works with officials.

Blake Hicks, who’s in his junior year at West Texas A&M, comes down every weekend to visit his family and girlfriend, and be lead official. It doesn’t pay as well as officiating prep games, but there’s the reward of passing along knowledge.

“I love it,” Hicks said. “I focus more on fundamentals than penalizing them. I show them the right and wrong way to play.”

Many coaches are former Wildcats themselves, but some are blending in just as well. Rickey Garcia, who coaches for the Mesa third- and fourth-grade team, is stationed at Cannon Air Force Base but his father, Conrad Garcia, went to Clovis High.

“I tell my coaches that we coach to teach, and we play to win,” Garcia said, noting the importance of technique.”

Players and fans come and go throughout the day, with crowds pretty much limited to the fans of the teams currently on the field and the next teams. Though Hicks said the close proximity of the fans means you can hear the ones who complain, it’s a relaxed atmosphere for the most part.

“The parents understand we’re trying to teach them how to play football and have a good time,” Muscato said. “It doesn’t get too wild.”