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Volunteers Keep The Youth Football & Cheer Program Going Strong



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By Andy Hutchison

This is the fourth and final piece in a series of articles covering Newtown Youth Football & Cheer as the organization celebrates the 50th anniversary of the youth program. The Bee previously published an overview of the program and features focusing on cheerleading and changes in the program.

Completely volunteer-run, the Newtown Youth Football & Cheer organization relies on time given by parents on and off the practice and game fields. From the moms and dads who coach the cheerleaders and football players to the so-called team moms who do seemingly a bit of everything to make the season go smoothly, it is quite a team effort from the sidelines.

Jennifer Stockwell is the team mom for the fifth grade football team this fall. “My main role is to assist the head coach, Jay Gagnon, with all our team requirements,” Stockwell said.

Some of her duties are collecting all necessary team paperwork and bringing it to the league to be certified, communicating weekly and sharing a parent volunteer list to make sure the field is covered, making CDs for the boys to listen to on their way to the games, taking photos for the team, leading in fundraising efforts, assisting with all recruiting events, and organizing all team parties.

“I’m ready to help whenever possible,” added Stockwell, who has been a part of the program for three years.

Her husband, Pete, is an assistant coach with the fifth grade team, and both of their sons — Cole and Nicholas — have been in the program for four years.

Our family absolutely loves the Newtown youth football program. We do it so we can participate and share in the bond and community that the players, coaches, and the parents form throughout the season. Our football families are friends for life,” Jen Stockwell said.

Each year, the program awards one volunteer with the Chris Stenz Volunteer Award, an honor given to the individual demonstrating hard work, selfless dedication, roll-up-your-sleeves support, and an unyielding can-do attitude reflecting the memory of its namesake, former NYF&C coach and volunteer Chris Stenz, according to the program’s website, newtownyouthfootball.org.

Ali Cordova, the 2018 award recipient, is in her seventh year with the program. Her son, Jayden Cordova, has played football each year since second grade and is beginning his eighth grade campaign this fall.

“This will be my sixth year as team mom, and I have been involved in the planning of the Beer, Wine, & Spirits Tasting Fundraiser event for four years. Working on the (fundraiser in June) with such a great group of people and volunteers has been extremely rewarding,” Cordova said.

“Team mom takes on a lot of the communication, filling weekly volunteer spots, and off-the-field planning aspects of the team. Taking this off of the coaches’ plates really allows the coaches to focus on football — game strategy, practice plans, plays, motivating, and all of the on-the-field aspects of the game. We have a great group of parents on our team — everyone pitches in and helps each other —making team pump-up playlists, team lanyards, filling game-day volunteer spots each week, team videos, and so much more,” Cordova said.

“Our team is very lucky to have a group that loves being together — parents and kids. Once August hits, football is every night during the week, and then preseason jamborees and scrimmages begin on the weekends to get ready for the season. It is a huge commitment for everyone — players, parents, and coaches. The commitment for the coaches begins long before the season ever does as they prep for the upcoming season,” Cordova added.

In early August, every team has to put together their validation book, which consists of a large amount of paperwork for each player, which must be verified/approved by the Shoreline Youth Football League. Every game, there is a long list of volunteer duties to be filled by each team — videoing, announcing, working the snack shack or apparel tent, verifying plays, and more, Cordova said.

“This program has given us our football family — not just for my son, but for my husband and I as well. So much work goes into running a successful youth sports program; most of the coaches and volunteers already have full time jobs but work tirelessly to help these kids be successful individually and as a team. Youth football is demanding but rewarding and has taught my son and his teammates so much, both on and off the field. I want to give back to the program which has given so much to our kids. I do it for softball as well for my daughter. When your children have such a love for a sport, it feels good to help that program in any way you can. One of Jayden’s coaches always says ‘Doing it for the kids.’ I think that statement says it all,” Cordova said

Rich Guman, who played in the program in the 1970s, has been director of football operations for the program since 2016, succeeding Jim Luzietti, who was the Chris Stenz Award winner in 2016. Guman also coached from 2013 to 2018. His son, Richie, also a product of the youth program, plays at the high school, and his daughter, Hannah, continues to cheer and is now with the eighth grade squad.

“It’s a great league. The families are great, the coaches are great. Everybody chips in,” Guman said. “The league would not run without the parents.”

All of the coaches are volunteers. Guman said coaching requires several hours five or six days a week of practice time and watching film. “It’s an extra job,” he said.

“Congratulations to Newtown Youth Football and Cheer — 50 years of existence is a tremendous accomplishment and quite a tribute to past and present players, parents, and board members that have ensured continued success of the league. The adherence to the mission of the organization has enabled safe competitive play for all participants. This program has always been regarded as an organization of high standards that is in place for the betterment of all kids,” said Doug Magazu, who put in a lot of time with the program throughout recent years.

Magazu, whose son, Dylan, played in the program, was a head coach for seven years, during which his teams qualified for the playoffs six times and won a pair of conference championships in the last decade. In addition to his coaching tenure, Magazu served as president three years, vice president of football for two years, and did fundraising for the program for a year.

“I can only say my experience with coaching youth sports in town was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. A fantastic group of kids, great supporting parents, and a remarkable bunch of men — dads — to coach with. There are way too many folks to mention who all volunteered and contributed to the success of the program,” said Eric Lambert, who coached football in the program from 2006 to 2009 and whose son, Jake, competed on youth gridiron.

Lambert, the 2010 Chris Stenz Award recipient, was involved for about a decade and said that seeing the success and accomplishments of the participants as they have grown and gone on to college or careers has been a tribute to their families, the community, and the program.

“I think it’s amazing, really. I can’t believe it’s been around that long,” said Susan Bridges, cheer coordinator of Newtown Youth Football & Cheer from 2004-13. Bridges, who was the co-winner of the Chris Stenz Award, along with Joe DeVellis, in 2008, added that the longevity of the program is a testament to those who run the program and the dedicated parents alike.

“I think it just shows the dedication of our parents throughout that time,” added Diane McCabe, current vice president of cheer for the youth program.

Volunteers have many duties during and between youth football games. During the games, parents record the action on the field, operate the clock/scoreboard and music, make announcements, and serve as spotters for coaches on the field, for example. Pictured in the Hawks Nest at Hawley Field during a 2017 sixth grade game are, from left: An unidentified visiting team videographer, Ray Corbo, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, Jeremy Cordova, Nick Phelps, and Todd Zaniewski. —Dawn Ng photo
Jon Soriano, left, and Mike Chappa move the yard markers during a seventh grade game in 2018. —Dawn Ng photo
Nick Stockwell throws a pass.
Cole Stockwell tackles an opponent. Jennifer Stockwell is the team mom, one of the many volunteers who helps things run smoothly, for the fifth grade squad this fall.
Coaches from the 2006 American Youth Football championship team are, from left: Jeff Grasso, Anthony Cascone, Ken Condon, Head Coach Pat Smith, Rob Frangione, and Eric Lambert.
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