Ashland Pop Warner still growing

Greg Reeser's mission 16 years ago to bring tackle football to Ashland so that his then preteen son could play is now providing the same opportunity for Ashland middle schoolers.

With state budget cuts ravaging athletics funding, Ashland Middle School for the first time has turned to Pop Warner Football to handle the organization of its seventh- and eighth-grade football teams, and the transition has been a smooth one.

That's no surprise to Reeser. The co-founder of Rogue Valley Pop Warner — fellow Ashlander Ed Houton helped kickoff the league — has touted the organization's advantages over middle school football for years. With minimum play requirements, expanded practice window and postseason play, Reeser says Pop Warner makes sense whether there's a budget crisis or not.

"I knew that it would stay in Ashland," Reeser said, "and I knew that if we had a good product that it would expand throughout the valley. Then it's just a matter of maintaining the strive for excellence. As long as you maintain the strive for excellence you'll (thrive). If you ever think you've reached that point you start to deteriorate."

Apparently complacency hasn't been a problem because under Reeser's leadership — he's still the league's commissioner — RVPW has rapidly branched out, expanding from four teams in a single division in 1996 to 44 teams in six divisions today. Now, eight of those teams represent middle schools which play each other as well as teams from the Eugene area. The Ashland middle school teams are playing a six-game regular season schedule followed by a postseason that wraps up with state championship contests Nov. 12-13.

Ashland's seventh-grade team, coached by Ron Atteberry, is 3-0 in league play and the eighth-grade squad, coached by Greg White, is 2-0.

White, who has coached both middle school ball and Pop Warner, guiding Ashland to two state championships in the latter, says there's no comparison.

"I think the kids just get a much better experience through Pop Warner," said White, a former Ashland High quarterback. "They get more practice time, and the coaches are generally ex-players. We're trying to teach the kids the fundamentals."

The practice time boost comes from Pop Warner's early start — early August, as opposed to the middle school policy of putting off practices until after school begins in early September.

Besides its seventh- and eighth-grade teams, Ashland also fields teams in the mighty might (second and third grade, 90 pound max), pee wee (fourth and fifth grade, 120 pound max) and junior midget (fifth and sixth grade, 130 pound max) divisions.

Pop Warner games are played mostly on Saturday's and Sunday's at Ashland High's Walter A. Phillips Field and Ashland Middle School.

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