Lake Wales Steelers Celebrate First Home Game of the Season
by James Coulter
After nearly a year of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the Lake Wales Youth Football League made their epic comeback last Saturday during their first home game of the season.
The Lake Wales Steelers competed against the Frostproof Bulldogs last Saturday at Legion Field at Lake Wailes Park. While they lost the game 33 to 34, they still had the opportunity to celebrate their first home game after a yearlong hiatus.
Richard DeLoach, District 6 Vice President, was pleased to see so many children and their parents turn out for the game. Despite these uncertain times, more than 150 to 160 players between the ages of 4 to 15 (with mascots at the age of 3) were enrolled this season completely free of cost. The youth football league is still accepting football enrollment from players ages 7 to 15 at no charge. (Flag division ages 4 to 6 is full.)
“When you take a year off like that, with the epidemic, parents are leery of kids participating, so we are trying to get re-established and going again,” DeLoach said. “We have plenty of pep. We just want to grow stronger, get a little bit bigger, and participate….We are having a good time. We are not as strong as part of our competitiveness. We are not trying to compete to win. We need to win in other areas like getting them re-involved and getting the kids going, and if we can see it, we can be more competitive than where we are.”
For the past four weeks, the Lake Wales Steelers have been on the road playing visitor games in other towns. Last Saturday saw them return to Lake Wales for their first home game of the season. Several principals from local schools and even Mayor Eugene Fultz himself attended to show their support.
Anna Barcenas, Principal of Polk Avenue Elementary, has been serving her position for the past year. Her school has proven exceptional, as enrollment has gone up, and they welcomed back a full campus, she said. She is equally excited for many of her students to participate in youth football.
“They were looking forward to the Saturday game,” she said. “There are many young girls in kindergarten who do cheers in the hallways at the end of the school day. Some of the boys talk about how they are the running back or different positions that they are playing, so we know they are building great sportsmanship for them, teamwork, and they are working with some great mentors as their great coaches.”
Barcenas appreciates both the parents and coaches for giving their time to ensure that this season will be successful, and she hopes that the young players will perform well at their game, win or lose, she said.
“My expectation for them is that they want to have a successful season, and there are many life lessons that come from sports too,” she said. “You may not win every game, but we want to make sure you are having a great time, one game at a time.”
Barbara Thomas, Principal at Hillcrest Elementary, also has many students who are participating this season. Her school has more than 700 students enrolled this year, and most of them are as excited as she is for this year’s football season.
“We love to get them involved in the community and support the community however we can,” Thomas said. “I think it is great for the kids to be able to learn the game and love the sport. And being outdoors is the best thing they can possibly do. I love that this is a place where they can come and have safe interaction and play. It is teaching them a lot of team-building skills and how to get along with a lot of people. I think it is wonderful that they are involved.”
Last Saturday marked the first home game within the past year and a half since the pandemic forced them to postpone their last season. They have since regained steam playing visitor games.
Shack Patrick is serving his first year as director. He worked his way up from defensive coach to head coach to his current position. He has high hopes for the upcoming season, and he hopes next year will more than exceed this year’s expectations.
“Our is to go to 250 next year,” he said. “We have a good team. We have a good following. We trying to bring the organization up this year with the family. We are trying to be more family-oriented. So we set out to be able to bring in a good atmosphere with the family and the kids. That is why we scheduled it the way that it is. For the families to be able to participate at our games.”
The Lake Wales Youth Football League is currently seeking donations. Donations can be made to: 319 S. Scenic Highway Suite 104B, Lake Wales, Florida 33853. Their Tax ID is: 59-3587696. For more information, call 863-332-2500.