Campbell County Thunder Win Pee Wee Football Title
At the Boone County Pee Wee Football League Super Bowl, the Campbell County Thunder toppled the Broncos 16-6 in what was the culmination of another great year for youth football in Northern Kentucky, and the Campbell County squad in particular.
“This group is really good,” said head coach Rob Howard. “I’ve coached seven years of football and along with my assistants have been a part of four championships over those years and this one is has probably been the most enjoyable because it’s such a tough, competitive league and this team is a fun bunch of kids. It’s probably the one group that I would say is more of a team than anything I have ever coached before. They really like each other and gravitate toward each other and I think they generally play for each other which is always every coach’s dream."
The Campbell County Thunder is part of a youth sports program called Youth Sports Inc., that includes football, cheerleading, baseball, basketball and softball. It began in 2013 when Howard and Jeff Wiles founded the nonprofit after being dissatisfied with the way the other youth football leagues were ran and operated.
“We started our nonprofit just because we felt like the landscape of youth sports in Northern Kentucky wasn’t where it needed to be. We were in a different league and a different football organization at the time and we tried to make changes within our own organization and we weren’t really looking to create something new, but every avenue we took to make changes we kind of turned away,” Howard said.
With Boone County Pee Wee Football, which has been around since the 1950’s, the teams found that their ideas and mission to be similar so they partnered and started to compete in football and cheering.
“Starting from scratch was a challenge, but we did field teams in every division that first year and we did okay. Since then, we have had a 20 percent increase in kids and this past year we had over 140 football players and cheerleaders,” Howard said.
In the 5th and 6th grade range, Howard and his staff have found the perfect balance of kids who want to have fun combined with the ability to grasp advanced football concepts.
“They’re still obviously kids, there are still fun things we do, but I do like the challenge of it. We run a lot of high school sets and I think what’s fun is that they get a kick out of the little things but it’s a lot like school in the fact that if you push them, they can grasp some complex football terminology and formations and things of that nature,” he said. “So it’s kind of the best of both worlds. We do pride ourselves on it being all about them and I like to say that this is their championship and they just took me and our staff along for the ride. Whether we win or not, it’s their journey and we just help them become better football players and better people and prepare them for what’s ahead of them.”
The Campbell County Thunder organization is aware of the concerns around player safety in football, specifically when it comes to concussions and head injuries. The number of players in football has dipped recently due to some of those concerns, but safety is of the utmost importance to the organization and each member has taking the measures to become certified and implement every protocol recommended.
“We do pride ourselves on a couple of things. All of our coaches are not only background checked, but we go through concussion protocol with local area St. Elizabeth’s and we also are the USA Heads Up Football official program in Northern Kentucky. We are very conscious about concussions and health issues with heat exhaustion for our players and cheerleaders,” Howard said. “I think with the education and research that is being done, this is the best time a kid could be playing football because of the knowledge that is out there. There are different ways to coach football now which will help the issue. The days of lining up and trying to kill each other are way in the past if you’re doing it right. Teaching proper technique is the key and letting the parents see that you’re doing it the proper way. We do very little hitting anymore. The Heads Up program is literally about getting that head up the proper way that is taught from the NFL level down so you’re getting the best that is out there.
“No one steps onto the field without being certified. Absolutely no one is allowed to instruct any football player in our program or in our league without that training. I think numbers will increase again.”
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor