For many youngsters, the thought of going back to school next week is the leading item on their “to do” list. For the boys and girls of Bartow Youth Football and Cheerleading, there’s the matter of this weekend’s games before the classroom.
The regular season opens Saturday with the first game being played on the road. Nearly 150 players and cheerleaders will head to Winter Haven to get things underway. Bartow is part of the Mid Florida Football and Cheerleading Conference, playing their games in District 4, which is one of the biggest districts with seven teams. The Winter Haven Wolverines are a part of it, putting Bartow in a district game right from the start. Other teams in the district include the Garden Grove Gators, Lakeland Lumberjacks, Lakeland Saints, Polk County Titans and Mulberry Panthers.
The Bartow teams took part in the league’s Jamboree two weeks ago. The games gave the coaching staff an additional opportunity to view players in game situations and allowed the coaches to work on their lineups and skill sets leading into this weekend’s contests.
Team rosters at many of the levels include more than 20 players with several teams growing through the past few years. Game day action starts with Flag level for ages 6 and younger. The Mitey Mites are players that are 8 and younger. Next in the lineup is Pee Wee for 10 and younger. Junior players are those 12 and younger with the highest age range of 14 and under players in the senior division.
After their road opener this Saturday, Bartow will be in action at Tommy Walker Field at 555 Park on Saturday, Aug. 24. The home opener will see Bartow taking on Cypress Gardens. From there, Bartow will have three straight road games, traveling to Plant City, Polk County and Mulberry. The Yellow Jackets return home on Sept. 21 to tangle with North East and stay home on Sept. 28 to play the Lakeland Storm. A third straight home game pits Bartow against long-time rival Lakeland Lumberjacks on Oct. 5. It’s back on the road on Oct. 12 to face Avon Park before closing the regular season at home on Oct. 19 against 4 Corners.
While the Bartow Youth Football squad is preparing to open the season, the teams in the Bartow Unlimited program will have another week of practice before starting their year. In their Monday practice at the Bartow High School complex, the Bartow squad, part of the Polk County Youth Football Conference, was working on plays and fundamentals. Coaches were providing ample breaks on the hot afternoon ensuring that players stayed hydrated.
The organization is led by longtime supporter Terry Lewis, who was busy working on outfitting the players with proper equipment for their drills. Thanks to the community support, fundraising efforts have allowed the organization to get new equipment.
“Two teams are going to have all new uniforms this year and some of the teams will get new jerseys,” said Lewis. He has also ordered new helmets including Ridell air helmets. Coaches and organizers are keenly aware of the importance of protecting the players, especially against concussion. Coaches are teaching proper tackling techniques and being pro-active in injury prevention.
Bartow Unlimited released its 2013 game schedule many weeks ago at a parents’ meeting that spelled out all the details of the year ahead. Bartow will travel to meet the South Lakeland Titans for the season opener on Aug. 24. Back-to-back home games are next as Bartow welcomes Polk City (Aug. 31) and Fort Meade (Sept. 7). A pair of road games come next against Lake Gibson (Sept. 14) and Auburndale (Sept. 21). The opponents repeat in cycle as Bartow hosts South Lakeland (Sept. 28), then moves out to play Polk City (Oct. 5) and Fort Meade (Oct. 12). The regular season closes with a pair of home contests against Lake Gibson (Oct. 19) and Auburndale (Oct. 26). The post-season starts with a flag tournament the next week with the playoff schedule for other division teams based on regular season ranking. The 2013 Super Bowl will be held on Nov. 23 in Auburndale.
The organization is wrapping up its fundraising efforts and will be at this Friday’s Tow Jam, giving the community members their last chance to purchase community discount cards.
The Tow Jam will also provide community members with an opportunity to support the Bartow High School football squad. Members of the BHS Yellow Jackets have recently received their fundraising packets and those will be available on Friday night. In addition to the Friday night appearance, Coach Jason Butler and the BHS team will be visiting Beef ‘O’Brady’s on Monday
(Aug. 19) to kick off the weekly Monday meetings. The opening session will feature highlights of the spring game against Mulberry and a preview of the upcoming Kickoff Classic against Frostproof. The Beef ‘O’Brady’s Monday night gatherings will help the team because 15 percent of the receipts dropped into the box will be donated to the program.