Panthers aim to improve football talent pool in Leavenworth County
Leavenworth County's newest youth football club is preparing to embark on year No. 2, and it is in search of new players.
The Leavenworth Panthers formed last year as the newest member of the North Suburban Youth Football League, a league that has existed under various names since 1962 and has served as a feeder program for many of Missouri's most dominant high school programs.
The Panthers are the first Kansas team to play in the league since the Muncie Kansas Raiders in the early 1960s, and it's a move that lifetime Leavenworth resident and Panthers third- and fourth-grade coach Todd Schuler said the long-range goal for the program is to make the high school football programs in the county - and specifically the high school programs at Leavenworth High, Lansing High and Pleasant Ridge High - regular contenders for state championships.
"Lansing has begun to see some success, and Pleasant Ridge has begun to see some success," he said. "I played on the Leavenworth High football team, and we didn't win a game my junior or senior year; not one varsity game.
"My goal is 10 years from now Leavenworth, Lansing and Pleasant Ridge, every one of them is competing for state championships like we do in other sports."
Schuler said it's important to start now if that vision is going to become a reality, and that means creating more outlets for children to learn the fundamentals of football at a young age.
The Panthers are the brainchild of Leavenworth resident and Hannibal, Mo., native Scott Sparks. He coached on and off for a few years with another team in the NSYFL. Eventually his son said he wanted to play football. Rather than signing him up for one of the local programs, Sparks petitioned the league to create a new team from Leavenworth because he was impressed with its competitiveness.
"Seeing the quarterback from Platte City throw it 40 yards on the fly on a rollout and hitting the guy in stride," he cited as one example of the skill in the league at the third- and fourth-grade level.
If the name "Platte City" sounds familiar, that's because Platte City High School is a regular playoff team in the Missouri state playoffs. The league's teams feed into other Missouri powers such as Oak Park High and Parkville High.
Panthers fifth- and sixth-grade coach Brian Ramey said the NSYFL will prepare local youths to be dominant high school football players.
"I played high school football at dynasties," he said. "Blue Springs (Mo.), Oak Grove (Mo.) : dynasty football. You know where the program started at? The little guys. And they are dynasties."
Of course the area already has youth football available through the Parks and Recreation program, but Schuler said he believes the Panthers and the Parks and Recreation football program and coexist and compliment each other because both provide opportunities for youths to learn the game.
The primary difference between the NYSFL and Parks and Recreation football, according to the Panthers representatives, is that their league puts a greater emphasis on competition.
"This is competitive, so if there's parents out there that don't want to keep score, then this probably isn't the league for them," said Pete Robinson, a member of the team's board of directors.
The Panthers offer a variety of levels of youth football. They have a flag football program for youths in kindergarten through second grade, a third- and fourth-grade tackle program and a fifth- and sixth-grade tackle program. The programs are open to all youths, and players have opportunities to play up at a higher level if they earn their position in tryouts. A cheerleading program also is available for girls in kindergarten through sixth grade.
The Panthers will have a general membership meeting at 7 p.m. on July 16 at the team's practice facility - the football field at the intersection of 20th Street and Vilas in Leavenworth - for parents of interested players. Coaches and board members will be available to answer questions. Registration will take place August 5-6 from noon to 3 p.m., and the tackle programs will conduct tryouts August 6-8 at the practice field.
What: Informational meeting.
When/where: 7 p.m. July 16, at the practice field at 20th Street and Vilas, Leavenworth.
For more information: www.panthersyouthfootball.com
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