For the last two years, the Mattydale Vikings haven’t fielded a single football team.
If they fail to do so this summer, the organization will cease to exist.
“The Mattydale Pop Warner Vikings organization has gone by the wayside,” said Jerry Ciciarelli, third ward councilor for the town of Salina. ‘It’s on life support right now. Either we reinvigorate it, or the surrounding areas will split up the territory and our kids will have to travel further to participate.”
According to CNY Pop Warner Program Coordinator Earl “Gator” Darisaw, Mattydale’s territory is at risk of being divided between the Clay Panthers, the Cicero Falcons and the Eastwood Bears.
“Mattydale has been vacant for two years,” Darisaw said. “By our bylaws, once a territory has been vacant for two years, their touching neighbors have the right to come in and split the territory.”
While someone could come back in the future and start a new Mattydale team, there’s no guarantee they’d be given the same territory.
“I know the problems that occur once it’s split up,” said Darisaw, who once led the Kirk Park Bulldogs and had to reorganize the team as the Thornden Park Bulldogs after the former disbanded. “It’s hard to get back in.”
At a meeting for Third Ward residents last week, Ciciarelli, a former Vikings board member whose sons played for the league, asked for support to help get the Vikings’ organization back off the ground for the sake of the community.
“If we don’t have our own area supporting our youth’s growth and development, if we don’t have stuff to keep them busy, [the police] are going to be in the area an awful lot,” he said. “If we don’t have something in our own community, what are we going to become?”
While enrollment numbers had been declining for some time prior, the worst of the Vikings’ trouble started in the fall of 2014, when the concession stand on Malden Road was vandalized — twice. The first time, according to a GoFundMe set up by Audra May, then vice president of the Vikings’ board of directors, the criminal just broke in and stole cash from the concession stand.
“Luckily our security cameras were working and gave us a clear shot of the two people that perpetrated the crime,” May wrote.
The league turned the footage over to the sheriff’s department, which began an investigation. But once they learned they were caught on camera, the vandals struck again three days later, this time doing much more damage: using a key they’d stolen during the first break-in, they entered the building, ripped the security cameras off the walls, urinated in the office and in the cheer and football rooms, ruining uniforms and equipment, sprayed vulgar graffiti on the walls and raided the concession stand.
The final blow came a week later when league officials learned that their ATM card was stolen the night of the break-in. The Vikings found themselves with a negative balance of $1,400, a pile of ruined equipment and no money to replace it or pay their other outstanding bills.
Meanwhile, many parents were deterred from signing their kids up by the specter of vandalism.
“The other part that kind of made it uneasy for many of the parents deciding to sign their children up was the past violence with the break-ins,” said Samantha Jones, former special programs director for the Vikings. “If we had enough kids to sign up, we would have still been together but we didn’t have enough kids signed up for any of the teams.”
While things look bleak, all hope is not lost. Justin Morgan is leading the charge to bring Pop Warner football back to Mattydale. He’s looking to start a flag team and a Mitey Mite team, which is for kids ages 7 to 9. Morgan said it’s important to provide athletic opportunities for kids that age, as schools often don’t.
“It’s just starting those building blocks, starting that foundation of where they’re going go as far as when they’re hitting middle school and hitting high school and the choices that they’re going to make,” he said. “Are they going to go hop in a car with somebody with bad intentions, or are they going to go to practice? Are they going to be working a job to try to push themselves through college? It’s just starting building blocks early. And that’s what I hope to help build.”
Morgan, who lives in Mattydale with his wife and six kids, said having a team again would do a lot to help build community spirit.
“I hope to have people not only see them on the field, but people see them throughout the community and volunteering and doing things and having more of a definite emphasis on scholastics and everything,” he said. “That’s the hope, anyway.”
And Morgan’s not alone — he has the support of the town of Salina, as well as the Pop Warner organization.
“The executive board wants Mattydale to get back in,” Darisaw said. “The program needs to come back to this area. We only need two teams to come back in. Practice starts Aug. 1. You have to decide by July 1…. It’s only going to be done with the help of Mattydale people. We really want to see you guys come together.”
Darisaw pointed to the benefits to not only the community in general, but to the kids and parents who’ll be part of the new teams.
“The kids form relationships. They develop a kind of buddy system,” he said. “The parents form relationships. Maybe you can’t go one week, but your neighbor can — ‘you drive this week, I drive next week.’”
Morgan said youth sports like football kept him on the straight and narrow, and he wants his kids and their peers to have the same opportunities.
“I’ve always been involved in the youth sports,” he said. “I actually don’t know how I would’ve turned out, honestly, without youth sports… the lessons you learn from coaches, the lessons you learn in life from your teammates and community, it teaches kids to carry themselves with pride.”
That’s why Morgan wants to see the organization not only return, but return with a new name: The Mattydale Lions.
“It’s about community — people coming together — and about pride,” he said. “We want to put pride of lions in Mattydale and anyone we can get a hold of to join the pride.”
For more information, contact Third Ward Councilor Jerry Ciciarelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.
Feb 18, 2019
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