Changes abound for the Newtown Youth Football and Cheerleading program as it kicks off the campaign with late-summer preseason preparations. Pigskin training has been unfolding at Treadwell Park with cheer strategizing taking place behind Hawley School throughout the month of August as always, but the program has a new president and has joined a different league for the 2014 campaign.
Longtime Coach Adam Carley succeeds Sean Dunn at the helm. Previously a member of the Colonial League, the Newtown gridiron teams and cheer squads are now part of the Shoreline Conference.
Dunn retired at the end of last season, and Carley, a ten-year fixture in the program, has stepped in to run things, but will continue to coach as well.
“I really love it,” said Carley, who played and coached at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury before being asked to volunteer in the Newtown youth program a decade ago. With no children in the program, at the time, Carley got involved simply for his love of the game and teaching it to up-and-coming players.
“I just found so much joy in youth football,” Carley said.
“They’re in good hands. Adam’s doing a great job,” said Newtown High School Coach Steve George, who works closely with the youth program so that future high school gridders are being developed accordingly to fit in with George’s system. Current Newtown High players also help instruct the youth gridders.
Carley, who now has a son, Ben, on the fourth-grade team, will continue to coach the group he’s led for the past handful of seasons and is now the program’s seventh-grade squad. Sometime down the road, Carley believes, he may have a chance to coach his son. But, for now, he wants to continue shaping the seventh graders. “I’ve been with this group since they were third graders,” he notes.
Carley inherits a program with approximately 200 football players and about 130 cheerleaders. The switch to the Shoreline was not a no-brainer, he notes, but the right move.
“We were a big part of starting and pioneering the [Colonial] league. It was a really tough decision,” Carley said. “It just seems like a really good fit.”
He said the league puts greater emphasis on long-term development than short-term success, and that there’s a high level of competition across the board. The Colonial League had some strong teams, but also some that Newtown and other top teams dominated each year. There is more parity in the Shoreline, Carley said.
The tradeoff is an increase in travel. While Newtown adds close-by Monroe and Shelton to its list of opponents, it loses, among others, locals New Milford and Aspetuck (Easton/Redding), along with strong competition from Bridgeport, and Norwalk.
The Shoreline includes football and cheer teams from Amity, Branford, Cheshire, Clinton, East Haven, Guilford, Madison, Manchester, Monroe, North Branford, North Haven, Old Saybrook, Shelton, Simsbury, Southington, Valley, and Wallingford.
“It was a good move for us,” George said.
There is more emphasis on following the USA Football’s Head’s Up Football initiative, which includes focus on the importance of tackling techniques to avoid head injuries along with other safety measures. Coaches are working to change the habits or, in the case of new players, teach them to not drop and lead with their heads when tackling.
“Letting it slide in practice is only going to lead to ejection in a game,” Carley said.
Also, proper workout regiments in correlation with the weather are important, he notes. Dehydration needs to be avoided and the coaches have players removing equipment in extreme heat and humidity during practices.
“Gone are the days of ‘you get your bell rung — get back in there,’” Carley said. “As a father, it’s very, very important to me.”
The youth program’s regular season will kick off with football games in early September. Cheerleading competitions get going in October. Newtown’s program has four age-specific cheer squads and six football teams.