The Northland Pines Youth Football and Cheerleading organization is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019, including a Youth Night at halftime of the Northland Pines football game last Friday night.

The program came to life in June of 1994, with the formation of Pop Warner football in Eagle River and the surrounding area for third- through eighth-grade boys and girls.

According to an article in the June 18, 1994, edition of the Vilas County News-Review, the people involved with the formation of the Northern Wisconsin Pop Warner Football Federation included Russ Millin, James Nimsgren, Sam Blakley, Gayle Hoffman, Becky Jefferson, Mark Weinand, Dan Jefferson and John Wainwright, who was the head football coach for the Northland Pines Eagles at the time.

The specific objective of Pop Warner was to familiarize players with the fundamentals of football and cheerleading. It also provided youths with the opportunity to play in an organized and supervised environment where the goal was to keep the game free from pressure to win at all costs. Another philosophy of the program was that academics and athletics go hand-in-hand.

The Pop Warner program thrived for many years, with Paul Riedel Sr., former owner of Hiawatha Supper Club north of Eagle River, as the organization’s first and largest donor for many years. He gave the local Pop Warner group $1,000 to get started.

The organization started with about 60 youths in the football program and 25 youths in the cheerleading program. There was a combined seventh- and eighth-grade team and two teams for grades three through six. 

About 10 years ago, the local youth football group dropped out of the Pop Warner organization and went independent due to weight restrictions by age required by the Pop Warner program.

“We had to pull out of the Pop Warner program due to the weight restriction by age, but we still played many of the same teams as an independent,” said Weinand, who still coaches in the program after 25 years. Weinand’s son, Jake, is now the president of the Northland Pines Youth Football and Cheerleading program.

About five years ago, flag football became part of the program to protect children from injury at a young age. There was another change three years ago, when the seventh- and eighth-grade tackle football program went under the auspices of the Northland Pines School District sports program.

Today, there are 38 youths in first through fourth grades in flag football and 27 youths in the fifth and sixth grades in the tackle football program. There are also 43 youths involved in cheerleading in grades three through six.

Mark Weinand said the program continues to be successful due to the community support.

“By far the biggest fundraiser for the organization is the Joe Bucher’s Blues Fest held each summer in St. Germain, with thousands of dollars raised each year for the Northland Pines Youth Football and Cheerleading,” said Weinand. “The high school coaching staff helps us with drills, the high school players ref our games with one paid official, we have all volunteer coaches and we have an excellent board. We play on the Northland Pines varsity field and if the weather is bad, we play in the high school field house.”

Despite no longer being with the original Pop Warner organization, Weinand says after 25 years the Northland Pines Youth Football and Cheerleading continues to be a strong program for youth athletics in the Eagle River area. I couldn’t agree more.