BY DENNIS SHAUGHNESSEY, Valley Dispatch Staff
DRACUT — On a football practice field, under lights that are powered by individual generators, Pop Warner coach John Hall Jr. is putting his team of 12- and 13-year-olds through their paces.
“You have to tackle lower than that,” he commands. “Block for your runner. Take them out at the knees. Think about the play before it happens.”
Hall is authoritative, never harsh. His words are firm without shouting.
“These are kids,” he said. “I’m here to help them. They don’t play for me. They play for themselves. I just want them to be the best they can be.”
Hall, 40, is in his 10th season as a Pop Warner coach. He spent two years in the Chelmsford system before coming to Dracut.
“I loved playing football when I was a kid, but you get to the point where you can’t do it anymore,” Hall said with a laugh. “But when I had kids I decided I wanted to get involved. Dracut was full and they had a couple of openings in Chelmsford Pop Warner so I went there.”
At the time of this interview, his B Team was struggling, having lost their last two games for a 2-2 record. Hall was hoping for a turnaround, not for his any plaudits he receives, but for the kids’ sake.
“We took it on the chin the last couple of weeks, but it’s really not about winning,” he said. “I know that sounds corny, but it’s really doesn’t matter if you win or loose at this stage in the game. It will later on, when they get to the high-school level. Right now it’s about learning the game. It’s about learning how to play off each other. It’s about learning how to play as a team. How to work as a team.”
Since this interview took place, the B team has reeled off two straight shutout wins.
Hall is the league’s vice president and sits on the board of directors. He has seen the program grow exponentially in the eight years he’s been involved. This year, the league’s 33rd, there are eight football and cheerleading squads made up of more than 600 children, 60 coaches and a 15-person executive board and an enthusiastic group of supporters and fund-raisers. The squads play an eight-game season leading up to the playoffs. They practice four times a week in August and three times a week in September and October.
“It’s the best 300 hours I put in,” said Hall, whose five children have gone through the system as players or cheerleaders. “And my father is in charge of the concession stand. I think my wife likes it when we’re all out of the house so she can get things done.”
In most communities, Pop Warner football is a way to feed the high school system and Dracut is no exception.
“We’ve even begun using the high school’s offense so they’ll be that much more familiar with it when they get there, and for some of these guys, that’s next year.” Hall said. “It makes you feel good when a kid you have coached gets to the high-school level and he knows what to do.”
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