Local Pop Warner league cancels fall season

DOVER — Dale Webb hasn’t been sleeping very well lately.

As the president of the Henlopen Conference Pop Warner football league, he’s been weighing whether to go forward with the fall season or not.

And he knew, whichever decision he made, some people were going to be unhappy with it.

In the end, however, the decision was pretty clear-cut.
The Henlopen’s presidents voted unanimously on Tuesday night to call off the coming season due to the threat of the coronavirus

Ten of the league’s 13 presidents took part in the video-call vote. The league includes teams from Smyrna to Snow Hill, Md.

Having teams in two states also complicates the situations because of differences in guidelines between Delaware and Maryland.

“I’ve been going back and forth, back and forth,” Webb said about making a decision. “We were waiting for something kind of concrete but it doesn’t seem like anyone wants to budge on anything.

“The one thing I told everyone I wasn’t going to bargain on was, if the kids can’t go back to school, we’re not playing football. As of right now, we’re thinking that the kids are going to go back to school, but we have no idea. … I don’t think we’re going to be clear of this by the time we would have to start a season.”

In his first year as president, Webb thought about moving the start of preseason from Aug. 1 until after Labor Day. But, in the end, he didn’t think it would make a big enough difference.

This is believed to be the first time since the Henlopen was founded in the late 1960s that a season won’t be played.

Last year, Webb said that about 2,800 youngsters participated in the Henlopen Conference between football and cheerleading.

League presidents posted messages to their families on social media.

“This decision was not made lightly, but is the result of much thought and discussion,” the message read. “We, as a board, would like nothing more than to give our kids the opportunity to participate in the sports that they love so much. We want to see these kids on the field and on the mats, working hard, learning and developing physical skills as well as life skills.

“We have tried to find a way to have a safe and productive season for both cheer and football but that just isn’t possible at this point. Our hearts are heavy tonight.

“We hope that each of you understand that our first and foremost goal is the safety and well being of your child as well as your family. There is no compromise when it comes to health and safety, both off and on the field or mats. We thank you all for your understanding and support and look forward to seeing you all come back next year.”

Pop Warner, which was founded in 1929, involves an estimated 425,000 participants in age groups from 5-16. Webb said the national organization left it up to the local conferences to decide whether to play the season.

Webb said he knows of least a couple other local leagues around the country that have canceled their seasons, too.

Of course, there’s a great deal of doubt whether any football at any level will be played this fall.

The fear of spreading the virus goes beyond the players and cheerleaders themselves. The effects of it would likely be worse for the coaches, officials and other league organizers.

Webb said that a long-time coach expressed his concerns at Tuesday’s meeting.

“He was like, ‘I love to coach, I’ve coached for 20 years,’ ” said Webb. “‘(But) if the kid brings it (the virus) to practice and I catch it from them, I’m quarantined from work for two weeks. I may lose my job.’

“We’re all volunteers. When you weigh it all out, it’s just not worth the risk.”

The Henlopen’s decision to cancel was especially difficult, said Webb, because it comes after the Little League baseball and softball seasons were also called off. But he’s also confident that it can come back strong next fall.

“We should be in good shape,” said Webb. “I’ve pretty sure we’re going to rebound and we’re going to be as strong as ever next year.”