The Dunedin Jr. Falcons football organization spent the offseason rebuilding after a tumultuous year of parents brawling in the stands, coaches getting arrested and fighting between board members.
“We had a lot of issues last year,” new board president Carolyn Peake said during summer training camp. “There was a lot of animosity.”
The 50-year-old organization hit a crossroads when youth coach David Rojas was arrested on child pornography charges in December.
Heading into the 2011 season, which began July 18 with the first practice, the question everyone involved with the organization wants answered is: What changes have been made to bring the Jr. Falcons back?
“We had a full change of the board. We’re currently restructuring the whole organization, every aspect … every thought process,” Peake said. “We want to bond more with the high school, more with the city and more with the community.”
The overhaul of the board is happening in conjunction with a new system for vetting coaches and a renewed sense of community involvement.
Other changes include an affiliation with Dunedin High School, where the Jr. Falcons train and play their games, for the first time. In fact, Max Smith volunteered to work with the Jr. Falcons at their inaugural summer camp this year.
And at a recent public meeting, city commissioners voted to appropriate up to $120,000 for the new lighting system that the team desperately needed to remain in operation beyond this year.
All of these changes have been made with designs on getting the Jr. Falcons organization back to its roots as a first-rate option for area youths looking for training and guidance in football and cheerleading.
“The new board is here to build a family, to build this organization back to what it once was,” vice president Tammy Howsare said. “The idea is to get as many kids involved in team sports as we can.”
The original core values are the driving force behind the Jr. Falcons organization's rebuild.
“Our main purpose is to teach life skills that go along with football and cheerleading,” Peake says. “It’s nice to see a shy 7- or 8-year-old blossom into a confident 10-year-old. They get that out here. They find themselves.”
But Peake and her staff realize that changing perceptions and getting parents to commit to the program again will be an uphill battle. So far it appears they are heading in the right direction.
“There was a lot of chaos last year, some of the kids were uncontrollable,” the father of Jr. Falcons players Declan and Jacob Hailey, said last week. “I like what they’re doing so far this year. I think it’s awesome, well overdue.”
The Jr. Falcons began as an offshoot of the Police Athletic League in the 1960s, in which kids ages 8 to 14 could gather and participate in team sports regardless of their background or skill level.
Today, the nonprofit, all-volunteer organization is part of the Suncoast Youth Football Conference, and is composed of five levels — flag, flyweights, mighty mites, pee wee and midgets. The youngest members of the flag division are 4 years old.
“We are very open-minded about changing everything because we want to see this succeed for the kids,” Peake says.