GATLINBURG — First-year Gatlinburg-Pittman head football coach Brad Waggoner doesn’t want to just coach the Highlanders varsity team this fall, he is also placing a strong emphasis on reenergizing Gatlinburg’s youth league teams this upcoming season.
Building for the future is his goal, and it will start at a young age.
The Gatlinburg grass cutters team will feature players as young as five, six and seven years old, while the super grass cutters will be eight and nine years olds, before the peewee team consisting of 10 and 11 year olds.
Waggoner will be very visible in the program, and he wants each team run exactly like the high school team.
“I want to make sure the kids are learning the game of football and more importantly are having fun,” he said. “That is the biggest thing I want to get across at that age. We want them involved in our program. When we have our ‘Meet the Highlanders’ night, we are going to be one family and meet all the Highlanders from varsity all the way to the grass cutters league.”
The youth teams are going to have everything structured nearly identical to the varsity level to make the kids feel like they are a part of something bigger, and Waggoner believes this will lead to retention of kids in high school and make for a smooth transition when kids reach the junior high and varsity levels.
“We are going to be teaching them the Gatlinburg-Pittman way,” Waggoner said. “Their uniforms are going to look like ours, they are going to stretch like we do. They are going to learn the basic formations like we do at the high school level. We have one program from varsity level all the way down to youth level.”
Fundamentals will be key for kids at young ages, and specifically for Waggoner, he has a special interest, because he has a son who will be playing on the super grass cutter team.
He plans to be visible, and have the players of all ages get to know him and the varsity coaching staff, so that when the kids reach high school age, a relationship has already been formed.
“I am going to be highly visible and involved. I have some coaches that have kids that are going to play, and I want the kids to know who we are and how we do things,” he said. “We want them to know what we expect, and we want them to also be coached the right way. I want the kids to learn what it means to be a Highlander.”
The goal is to teach the kids about football, but also a point of emphasis will be teaching them character and discipline.
Waggoner wants former Gatlinburg-Pittman varsity players to coach the teams this fall, because they have invested their time as Highlanders, and they have a connection and tie to the program.
He views the youth league as a feeder program, and getting started now is crucial to him.
He has seen first hand at other stops what the continuity in youth programs all the way up to high school, and his hope is that down the road, reinvesting in the youth teams will pay off big time.
“Where you are going to see this pay off and the dividends is seven or eight years down the road,” Waggoner said. “My little boy has 10 years left in school, so I will be here. You’ll see the dividends when these kids get to high school.”
The process of energizing the Gatlinburg youth about football begins from July 12-15 with a free Highlander youth football camp by Waggoner.
All kids in Sevier County and other areas are welcome to attend regardless of school affiliation, and from there, that will kick start the Gatlinburg youth teams for when they take the field this fall.