Pop Warner: A bastion of youth athleticism and discipline fundraises as pandemic derailed its 2020 season

The Jr Pee Wee Division won the 2019 Orange Bowl Championship. Long Beach Pop Warner hopes to return in August. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Barreto)

When California went into lockdown in March 2020, recreational organizations around the state went dark.

Included in this list is Long Beach Pop Warner, an over 40-year-old youth football, cheer and dance program that instills teamwork, dedication and work ethic into its participants.

The local program is part of a bigger national organization, Pop Warner, known as the largest and oldest youth football, cheer and dance program in the world, having been founded in 1929, according to the organization’s website.

The national program is one-of-a-kind, requiring good academic standing in order to participate for children ages 5 to15.

Latoya Diamond, whose youngest son Elyjah Staples, 12, is in Long Beach Pop Warner Football, noticed her son was impacted by the program’s closure during the pandemic.

“If I don’t keep him busy, he tends to get into things,” Diamond said. “So, basically, Pop Warner was a place for him to go and let out any frustration or whatever it was that he had going on, on the field and playing with the kids.”

“If I don’t keep him busy, he tends to get into things, so, basically, Pop Warner was a place for him to go and let out any frustration or whatever it was that he had going on, on the field and playing with the kids. Instead of using [frustration] in a negative way, he was putting it to good use in a positive way.” 

Latoya Diamond, mother of son in Long Beach Pop Warner Football

She added, “Instead of using [frustration] in a negative way, he was putting it to good use in a positive way.” 

Vice President of Long Beach Pop Warner and Coach Daniel Barreto noted that the children in the program are eager to return.

“You would get calls and [they’d] say ‘hey, what can we do all season?’ I go ‘well, not much we can do.’ We have to separate them at the park,” Barreto said of social distancing.

Barreto did however give parents tidbits on how to keep the children busy with exercise to hold them off while the season is cancelled.

One of the other issues Diamond, who is a mother of three, noticed in her children was the lack of interaction with other children due to social distancing measures.

“It’s different when you’re out with your friend and you’re talking, and you’re doing things,” she said. “Just being here, literally stuck in the house, just on video and not being able to talk to their friends, I think it took its toll. It really did,” Diamond said.

“It’s different when you’re out with your friend and you’re talking, and you’re doing things. Just being here, literally stuck in the house, just on video and not being able to talk to their friends, I think it took its toll. It really did.”

Latoya Diamond, mother of son in Long Beach Pop Warner Football

All three of Diamond’s sons have been part of Pop Warner Football for years, but only one has endured the pause in activity due to the pandemic.

Her oldest, Ezavier Staples, 17, recently committed to UCLA Football on a full ride scholarship. Diamond says this is in part thanks to Pop Warner.

“Coach Barreto, Coach Louis, the president, they all had a hand in helping me bring him to the man he is today,” the single mother said as testament of how impactful the program is.

“Coach Barreto, Coach Louis, the president, they all had a hand in helping me bring him to the man he is today.”

Latoya Diamond in regards to the impact Long Beach Pop Warner Football has had on her son

But the program can only continue to motivate young athletes while in session.

The 2019 Junior Varsity Team is comprised of children ages 10-13. Children compete with others of similar age and weight. Pop Warner enforces a strict age and weight matrix in order to reduce the risk of real injuries, according to the organization’s website. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Barreto)

With vaccine distribution steadily moving forward, the glimmer of kick-starting the season soon seems more promising than ever, so much so that online and in-person registration has already started.

However, the pandemic set the football organization back financially by not allowing them to fundraise as they would during a regular season.

In need of new helmets, shoulder pads and uniforms for the children, Barreto started a GoFundMe with a goal of $10,000 to help Long Beach Pop Warner football and cheer. 

“We fundraise all year long, individual teams fundraise,” Barreto said. “We end up getting a nice chunk of change to buy equipment to repair equipment because we have to recertify our equipment every year. And so that gives us the opportunity to do that, being that we didn’t have a season we had to refund everybody’s money.”

As of press time, the fundraiser has met $665 of its goal.

One of the other goals of the fundraiser is to help keep costs of registration down.

“Our goal is to get people to help single moms [who] want to give their kids something else to do but can’t afford it,” Diamond said. “Pop Warner is all about the kids.”

And Barreto as well as the other coaches want to see as many kids as possible get the opportunity to play.

“We’ll try our hardest, all the coaches and the staff here, if you don’t have the funds, we’ll try to find you a sponsor, we’ll try to find somebody to help you out,” he said.

“That’s our main philosophy to get the kids to come out and play and keep them off the streets.”

For more information on Long Beach Pop Warner, including registration, visit their website here.

The Long Beach Pop Warner’s GoFundMe can be found here.

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