By Susan Fried
Stepping onto the field at a Northwest Premier Junior Football and Cheer League game, one might think the whooping, cheering crowd is watching a National Football League championship. But they’re not. They’re cheering on tiny children, bobble-headed in football helmets.
Within the South Seattle-based league, youth football is as much about family as it is about the actual game. Those cheering from the sidelines for these players aren’t just football fans: they’re parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins.
“I live on a football field,” said Sharlene, as she watched her two youngest use their older brother’s football helmets at forts for their stuffed animals, during a game at Garfield High School in late September. She’s a mother of four sons, two of whom play for the Northwest Premier Junior Football and Cheer (NPJFC) League team, the CD Panthers.
There are 12 teams in the league, and five age groups: Rookies (ages 6 and under), Freshman (ages 8 and under), Sophomores (ages 10 and under), Juniors (ages 12 and under), and Seniors (ages 14 and under). The families of the kids who play in the league spend at least one day every weekend from the end of August through November watching football.
All that work culminates in the league championships, which will be held this year on Nov. 10 at Renton Stadium. The Rookie Benson Bruins will play the Rainier Ravens. The Freshman CD Panthers will match up against the Benson Bruins, while the Sophomore championship game will feature the Benson Bruins against the Beacon Hill Cowboys. The CD Panthers will battle the Benson Bruins for the Junior title, and the Puget Sound Lancers will face off against the SeaTac Sharks.
There’s almost as much activity happening on the side lines as on the field. The younger children who have already played continue to roughhouse and throw the football off-field, while the older kids play on the field. Athletes’ siblings also play together in the stands, and cheerleaders perform for the crowd and players.
Anita Koyier-Mwamba’s son Oteka plays for the CD Panthers Junior team. Koyier-Mwamba admits she was skeptical, when her son asked if he could play football at just six years old. As an immigrant from Kenya, she wasn’t familiar with the traditions of American football or even the basics of how to sign a kid up for team sports; and unlike many of the moms she encountered, Koyier-Mwamba didn’t have the history of growing up in the community, watching her brothers and friends play the game or her father and uncles coach it.
But now, Koyier-Mwamba characterizes herself as a “true football mom.”
“My fellow moms teach me every day how special our membership in the football moms club is. When one of our boys struggle, we rally around them,” she said in an email. “We stand together in victory and loss. We dry tears, offer hugs, raise expectations high and, ultimately, wind down the season anticipating the next. My football family has added so much color and flavor to my life.”
No matter what happens on Nov. 10, the stands will be filled with family and friends, cheering on their favorite teams, and getting ready for next year when the fun starts all over again.
Featured image: A Rainier Raven player evades a pack of Beacon Hill Cowboys, during their game on Sept. 15 at Genessee Playfield in Seattle, Washington. (Photo: Susan Fried)