Despite the ongoing pandemic, the youth football and cheer organization has seen a spike in participation.
In these uncertain times, fewer sources of escape have taken a bigger hit than sports.
Throughout the year, seasons at organizations such as Little League and Babe Ruth were outright canceled, while amateur and professional sports leagues struggled to get back to their respective fields of play.
But that’s not the case for the Horizon West Wolverines cheer and football organization. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
While other organizations were unfortunately shut down for the year, Horizon West managed to not only keep the program running but also thriving in its second year of existence.
“The numbers have grown exponentially, even though we are in the middle of a pandemic,” said Nick Torani, the organization’s vice president and director of athletics. “Last year, we were struggling for kids on 14U, and this year, we’re in a good spot. I think that the name of the league has grown throughout the community, and you have some kids that have come over from other leagues, because our organization is pretty well-run.”
The organization began its signups earlier in the year in late February, so those looking to participate already were ready to go. Outside of two or three folks canceling because of the pandemic, everyone else has come back, and the numbers for all of their age groups — 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U — are about maxed out, Torani said.
Right now, the football and cheer teams are going into their fifth week of games — out of eight — and the organization has taken every step to make sure they are safe, Torani said. Precautions such as temperature checks before and after practice and spraying down equipment with sanitizer has become the norm this season.
Meanwhile, at games, everyone who comes in has their temperature checked and is required to wear masks and practice social distancing.
“They see the precautions that we are taking, and we’ve been lucky — there is no doubt about it,” Torani said. “We talk to the kids a lot about making sure you’re taking care of yourself, because we have kids who go to school and we have some who are homeschooled — so we have a mix of kids.”
Another big change is that the Wolverines no longer play their home games at Deputy Scott Pine Community Park — home of the Windermere High football, soccer and lacrosse programs. Orange County Public Schools is not allowing the park to be rented for youth sports this year. Instead, the Wolverines rent the football field at Central Florida Christian Academy.
But every bit of change on and off the field has been navigated successfully, thanks to a supportive parent base, donations and a boost in participation as it relates to coaches and the organization’s own board. Along with adding a few extra members to the core board, the organization added multiple community board positions for parents and others looking to help with marketing, fundraising and operations.
“That’s probably the biggest reason why we have had so much success, because of the board and the community wanting to help,” Torani said. “We’ve had PPE donated, we’ve had bacterial killer that we spray on our bags every night, we have hand sanitizer donated — the parents and the community have been great helping us through this.”
Fundraising had been the biggest challenge of the year. There are growing pains with having more players involved in the program — including a need for more equipment and helmets. Throw on renting the field, and it can get pricey. Luckily, a few members in program work for Gatorade, which offered a substantial amount of help to make this season happen.
All the help that has come its way, combined with learning from last year’s lessons, has put the Wolverines cheer and football program in a strong position, and it’s all captured in the organization’s new motto.
“‘One team, one family, Wolves,’” Torani said. “That’s kind of a motto that the parents kind of came up with, because we were like a traveling family last year by the end of it. It has become a very family-oriented organization.”
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