At the end of the 2011 football season it was time for a change in the Gloucester Raiders Youth Program according to program president Mike Turner.
Participation was down for the Raiders and the team needed to order brand new football helmets as they were too old and kids in the program sustained more than 30 concussions during last pee wee football season.
“We were really concerned about the kids safety,” Turner said. “It would have cost us $14,000 to buy brand new helmets, so we decided to do a complete overhaul of the program.”
And that complete overhaul is nearly complete as the Gloucester Raiders Youth Program is now known as the Gloucester Patriots Youth Program.
The change has already taken effect during the 2012 youth basketball and softball season and the program has since gotten football and cheerleading uniforms ready for the 2012 Pee Wee Football season (for kids ages 8-eighth grade), which begins Monday with preseason practices. Games begin on August 26.
Over the last three decades the now Patriots Youth Program has gone through a number of different names. The team started off as the Falcons before changing to the Seahawks, a name that stuck until 1997 when they changed over to the Raiders.
“We had lost numbers and needed new equipment so the best idea in our minds was a complete revamp of the program,” said Gloucester Patriots Youth Program vice president Kevin Verga, who has also helped the East Gloucester Vikings Youth Program turn around participation issues. “What kid growing up doesn’t want to play for the Patriots.”
The Patriots Youth Program has already has just over half of the $40,000 needed to complete the overhaul through private donations and fundraisers.
The overhaul does not end with a name change, the program has invested in a storage container at Burnham’s field where uniforms, player equipment and practice equipment are shelved and organized. Nicastro’s Driving School and Prime Time Party Zone have helped with the cost of the container and Gloucester high school softball coach John Nicastro Jr. shares the storage facility with the program.
“From top to bottom we are looking to change everything,” Turner said. “Not only are we looking to get more kids involved but more parents involved too and it starts with us at the top.”
The Patriots Youth Program, which is accepting players from all over Cape Ann, is still looking to raise money through private donations and fundraisers. Currently the program is raffling off two tickets to a New England Patriots game to go along with a ride to and from the stadium, tickets are $5 for one and $20 for five. For more information on the raffle contact Turner at 978-491-9489.
With the overhaul nearly complete, Turner and Verga are looking forward to starting the 2012 football and cheering season. They are also grateful for the support the other five youth programs in the Gloucester Pee Wee league, the Hampden Hill Tigers, East Gloucester Vikings, West Gloucester Chargers, Riverdale Rockets and Manchester Jr. Hornets.
“The other five programs have been 100% behind us,” Verga said. “They have been a great help to us in this whole process.”