IMPERIAL COUNTY — The Imperial Valley football farming systems will feature a different look this year as two local youth squads have made a transition in their league umbrellas this year. Both Brawley and Imperial Youth football have made the switch from Pop Warner to American Youth Football, the largest Youth football organization in the United States, a switch made in hopes of helping bolster their respective programs as well as Imperial Valley football as a whole.
Brawley Youth Football President Bobby Sanchez said the transition was years in the making.
“In 2004, I saw advertising for AYF on a flyer at a coaching clinic. So I called and looked into it a bit more and felt this league better suited our kids. Especially after kids being placed on diets to make weight,” said Sanchez.
Costs of play and weight limitations were major concerns for Sanchez and the American Youth Football League offered some amenities for the problem that Pop Warner did not, including no weight limit for the Midget Division (oldest division) and an extra division in the lower age brackets allowing younger kids struggling with weight to compete in a division with other youth their own age, instead of moving to an older age bracket due to weight.
At the time, the board felt that the move wasn’t necessary and continued to run under Pop Warner organization.
Although the move was not made at the time, seeds were planted for the future. Ten years later when Sanchez became the Brawley Youth Football president, the switch was again on the table.
“As President in 2014, I started the talks about our Board and also Conference League Board about our concerns. Nothing was done to solve these problems,” said Sanchez.
“After the second, we started talks with Coachella Valley teams and we made our decision to leave,” said Sanchez
Brawley’s Youth football program was not the only one in the Valley to make the move. Imperial’s Youth program opted to switch to AYF as well after getting positive feedback from other conference members, according to Imperial Youth Football President Jason Reed
“We as an association had been hearing of AYF for a few years and when the local conference came into existence this year we researched AYF even more and spoke with the new conference members and really liked the feedback they gave us,” said Reed.
Though not technically Valley teams, two well-known Vally rivals, the Mexicali Zorros and the Yuma Coyotes, have left the Pop Warner umbrella for American Youth Football. These four former Pop Warner squads will join with the Shadow Hills Knights, Indio Rajahs, and the Coachella Rajas in the Southwest division of the Desert Valley Youth Football Conference. These teams will look to play each other twice a year, one home and one away.
On the other side of the conference in the Northeast Division are the Lake Havasu Chiefs, Bullhead City Firebirds, River Valley Devils, Parker Panthers, and the Kingman Rebels. Valley teams will only travel to play one of these team once a year and will receive a home game against one as well.
The playoffs will be held at neutral sites against teams from the entire conference with winning tournament winners moving on to regionals in Las Vegas. Should a team win the regional they would then head to the national championship during December in Kissimmee, Florida.
“Each city made their own decision to join the new Desert Valley Youth Football and Cheer Conference,” said Sanchez, who in his third year as Brawley Youth Football President has been a part of the new conference being formed with 11 other teams.
“We are looking to grow both our football and cheer programs. All of our volunteers really enjoy working with the youth of the Imperial Valley and we really encourage the kids to stay active and be healthy young people,” said Reed.
“Everyone at Desert Valley Youth football and cheer wants what’s best for the kids,” he added.