Efforts underway to revive Windsor youth football

Published 1:33 pm Saturday, February 10, 2024

Jeremy King and Travis Kuykendall are leading efforts to bring back something that has been missing in the Windsor community since 2019 — youth football.

Jeremy King

King is president of Windsor Wildcats Youth Football.

“It’s a new organization, but it is coming off of the Windsor Knights, which Bubba Joyner and Dip Bradshaw started,” King said.

Junious “Bubba” Joyner Jr. and Dennis “Dip” Allen Bradshaw were the founders of youth football in Windsor, leading the Windsor Knights program.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the program in 2020, and then unfortunately, Joyner passed away in April 2021, and Bradshaw passed away in July 2023. 

These events coupled with the escalating costs of football equipment after the pandemic led to four years without youth football in Windsor.

However, seeds were planted for the program’s revival by Bradshaw before he passed away.

“He had asked if I could take over the league,” King said, “and I had told him, initially, ‘No, I couldn’t do it,’ because I have four kids too, and all of them play sports. But I found out that it was actually left to me to take over the league when I started coaching in Franklin. I coached one year in Franklin, and it was brought to my attention that they left the team to me, so that’s when I got with Travis, and that’s when all of this came about to start it all over again.”

Kuykendall, who is vice president of Windsor Wildcats Youth Football, said, “Jeremy’s picking it up and running with it and bringing it back. It’s going to look much different than what the community knew the Windsor Knights as, even as far as league participation, the teams that we’ll be playing against.”

WHAT WILL BE DIFFERENT

While the Windsor Knights played in more of a community-based league, the Windsor Wildcats will participate in a league with a national governing body.

Travis Kuykendall

Kuykendall explained that in the U.S., there are three national youth football governing bodies: Pop Warner Youth Football, United Youth Football League, and American Youth Football.

“Those are three national bodies over the entire country that have charters and leagues, and that filters into where there is a national championship component,” he said. “Down in Florida each year they host these national tournaments from the top teams from all the different charters and leagues around the country.”

He noted that Windsor Wildcats Youth Football is going to be a registered member of the United Youth Football League.

“With us being (part of) this national body, it opens up more opportunities, and we can play against teams from a larger area, whether that’s on the peninsula or over in Norfolk or Virginia Beach or Suffolk,” he said. “So that’s the biggest change that’s going to happen and that families will see.”

King added, “The competition is going to definitely be different.”

WHAT WILL BE THE SAME

But some key things will remain the same. King and Kuykendall are honoring Joyner and Bradshaw by moving forward with the same mindset that fueled the Knights version of the program: It is an offering for the youth in the community that avoids a win-first mentality and rather places the priority on developing them as people and young athletes.

WHO CAN BE A WINDSOR WILDCAT

Windsor Wildcats Youth Football is open to children ages 5-12, and there is no residency requirement.

“If people want to play and be a Wildcat, they can live wherever,” Kuykendall said.

For 5- and 6-year-olds, flag football will be offered, and tackle football will be the offering for participants ages 7-12.

“The playing age is based on the player’s age as of July 31,” Kuykendall said, noting that someone who is 6 years old on July 31 would be on the 6-and-Under team even if they turned 7 on Aug. 1.

Depending on the level of registrants, the Windsor Wildcats will be looking to field as many as five teams.

Kuykendall noted that flag football games require only seven players on a team, so if there are enough 6U Wildcats, they may be split into two teams to allow more children to have more playing opportunities.

For tackle football, the Wildcats will be aiming to field an 8U team, a 10U team and a 12U team.

LADY WILDCATS CHEER TEAM

On Wednesday, Feb. 7, which is National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the Windsor Wildcats organization announced its plan to offer a youth cheerleading opportunity.

Kuykendall said he and King heard from the community and knew there was a lot of interest for a youth cheer program, especially from families with children that could be active in both football and cheer.

“We actually just rolled out the announcement on social media last night that there will be Lady Wildcats Cheer offered for 5-year-olds up to 14-year-olds,” Kuykendall said on Thursday, Feb. 8.

HOW TO MAKE WINDSOR WILDCATS A REALITY

King and Kuykendall are anticipating opening up player registration by the end of February and beginning practices in mid-July.

However, more funds must be raised before the Wildcats can actually compete on the gridiron.

“Right now, if we don’t raise a certain amount of funds, then unfortunately, this dream will not come to fruition,” Kuykendall said, “and that’s just because football equipment since COVID has gotten very expensive, just like anything else.”

He noted that the organization needs to purchase about 50 helmets, which will cost $8,000, and then shoulder pads, practice uniforms and game uniforms will also need to be purchased.

“We’ve done a great job so far of raising funds, but we’re not there yet, and we have a little ways to go,” he said. “Now, we have time — that’s a benefit. But really we just need the community’s support, financially as well, because we don’t want to come around to July and say, ‘Hey, sorry, kids. It’s not going to happen.’”

Tiered sponsorship packages are available, and businesses choosing to become sponsors will receive the benefit of advertising, with their logos being displayed at Wildcats games.

Kuykendall encouraged individuals and businesses interested in donating funds to contribute to the GoFundMe.com campaign named “Windsor Wildcats Youth Football.”

Those interested in supporting WWYF can also message the organization at its Facebook page, which is found at www.facebook.com/windsorwildcatsfb/. The organization also has an Instagram page — @windsorwildcatsfootball.

Additional avenues of contact include email, windsor4football@gmail.com, and King can be reached at 757-551-1648, while Kuykendall can be reached at 443-745-5640.

“We just need everyone’s support, in whatever capacity, even if it’s $5 — it all helps,” Kuykendall said.

THE BENEFITS THE WILDCATS WOULD BRING

The Windsor Wildcats Youth Football program would bring three key benefits that King and Kuykendall highlighted.

The program would benefit the community by providing an important outlet for children, helping them be active and keeping them off the streets.

“It just gives the children more to do than just sit at home, play video games, on the their phones,” King said.

The program would also provide youth football and cheer offerings that are easily accessible to families in the community.

“I was the president and I also coached for the Nansemond-Suffolk Saints Pop Warner program the last couple years,” Kuykendall said. “I live in Carrsville, and so I saw that there were players from our community that were playing for me in Suffolk. And then I also knew families that played over in Smithfield, or they went to the Holland Razorbacks in Suffolk, and so we have these kids that are already interested in playing football and yet they have to travel these distances to do it because it’s not (been) offered since 2019 in their community, in their neighborhood that they can drive five minutes down the road.”

He also noted that a large group of children in the area have simply had to drop out of youth football because their families did not have the means and resources to travel those distances.

The program would also significantly benefit Windsor High School’s football program.

King said Windsor Wildcats Youth Football will help youths to “get that knowledge and get the understanding of an organized football team.”

“A lot of the kids that were playing on the Windsor High School football team for the last five years, I would say there were only about 1 to 2% that played organized football before they got to that level,” Kuykendall said, “and so (then) they’re learning the game at a time where it is competitive at that point, and so it’s hard to develop and try to be competitive at the same time.”

He said that WWYF will give young football players an opportunity to develop in a safe environment where things are not all about winning yet.

“They’ll be prepared and ready once they do get to being a Windsor Duke football player,” he said. “They’ll already have the basics down, and it’s going to just improve the overall program and the things that they’re going to be able to do.”

THE SCHEDULE FOR THE FIRST SEASON

If Windsor Wildcats Youth Football is able to launch this year, practices will officially start in mid-July in preparation for the regular season, which will start in mid-August.

Kuykendall said, “But we hope to, during the springtime as the weather gets nicer, at least get the kids out, invite people out that may be on the fence about registering, that want to check it out, see who we are, what we’re about, what our coaching style is and really just start to get kids training and conditioning, kind of get in that football mindset so that once July comes around and we actually start official practices, they’ll already kind of know the deal, what the expectation is, what some of the drills are, and we’ll just start rolling.”

Games will be on Saturdays.

Kuykendall said WWYF has great support from Windsor High School, including the Dukes football coaching staff, Athletic Director LaJuane Gaddis and Principal Dawn Carroll.

“They’ve kind of just said whatever that we need from them, they will assist us however best that they can, which will be pretty cool,” Kuykendall said. “We’re hoping to do some events on Friday nights at home games at Windsor (High) that the kids can come out (to), wear their jerseys, and they can really feel a part of the Windsor football program, which is the youth level as well as the high school level, and it’s just one big family.”

The Wildcats’ regular season will end in mid-November. The postseason featuring national-level championship games will take place in early December.

WHERE THE WILDCATS WILL PLAY AND PRACTICE

Kuykendall said he and King anticipate the Wildcats teams practicing at Georgie D. Tyler Middle School and playing their five regular season home games at Windsor High School.

DETAILS ON REGISTERING TO BE A WILDCAT

Kuykendall said people can expect for registration “to start opening up by the end of this month.”

The cost for registration is listed on a flier posted on www.facebook.com/windsorwildcatsfb with the note that prices will increase after June 1.

Kuykendall indicated that one of the reasons WWYF is opening registration this early is to make registration payment plans possible for families.

“As long as it’s paid off by the time that July rolls around, then we’ll be good to go, and obviously we’re going to work with families,” he said. “So if there’s families that are in a tight financial situation, we don’t want them to feel like they’re excluded. We will work with them, whatever fits. So we hope that they contact us and don’t just say, ‘I can’t afford the registration fee that I’m seeing.’ Please talk to us, because we want every kid that wants to be a Windsor Wildcat football player to be able to be a Wildcat.”

Making this desire a reality is another priority on the minds of King and Kuykendall as they raise funds.

“We’ve been reaching out to a lot of businesses, handing out sponsorship letters that offer advertising opportunities, soliciting donations,” Kuykendall said. “So, one, we need that for the equipment we have to purchase, but once we are able to get all the equipment we need, additional funds obviously go to administrative costs, but we also want to have the ability to sponsor whole players.”

He said that he and King want to make the opportunity to be a Wildcat as widely available as possible to Windsor and the surrounding communities.

“Anyone that’s willing to drive and come and show up and commit themselves to the Wildcats, we’ll figure out how to make the money thing work,” Kuykendall said.

Those interested in registering their children to participate in Windsor Wildcats Youth Football should visit the organization’s Facebook page for more information, and they can also message WWYF representatives through that page. The organization also has an Instagram page — @windsorwildcatsfootball.

Additional avenues of contact include email, windsor4football@gmail.com, and King can be reached at 757-551-1648, while Kuykendall can be reached at 443-745-5640.