A hearty breeze and sunshine set the stage on Saturday, August 18 at Murrieta Town Square Park as over 180 players, cheerleaders, and their families gathered to celebrate the Murrieta Panthers Tackle Football League’s Opening Day Luau.
Attendees brought their own shade, chairs, and blankets, and surrounded the stage in anticipation of live Polynesian entertainment, a pep rally, and game jersey handouts.
Canned food donations for the Temecula/Murrieta Rescue mission were also accepted at the entrance.
On a day that promoted fair play and togetherness, president and co-founder of the Murrieta Panther’s Football League Todd Cassidy said, “As a league, we promote family, commitment to teammates, and the fact that every kid (from ages 5 to 14) who wants to play—regardless of weight—is welcome in this league.”
Players tossed the football around while others enjoyed face painting, frozen yogurt, shaved ice, and kettle corn. Clothing and cheerleader hair bow vendors showed up for the event.
Cheerleader coordinator Dee Dee Bode corralled a bevy of enthusiastic cheerleaders to take part in the evening’s Luau festivities.
“Some have taken cheer, others gymnastics or dance, but it’s really about building confidence and having a good time,” Bode said. “We don’t have try- outs; we are happy to include all who want to cheer. We teach them to speak in front of a crowd and to express themselves in a positive way.”
There are no weight or height requirements for any player or cheerleader. Players are taught to develop at specific positions by people who understand football.
Gallery courtesy of Ashley Ludwig:
“We have excellent coaches who teach the proper technique to our players. In our experience, injuries happen in tackle football when players are unequally matched by age, not by size,” Cassidy said. “In many ways, football mirrors life. There’s adversity, family, and learning teamwork. We help make that connection with our players. At the end of the season, we award players for good citizenship and excellent grades, as well as skill.”
“We’ve experienced phenomenal growth after the first year,” Cassidy said. “We started with 108 players and cheerleaders and now we have 180 on our roster.”
Lisa Baker, who brought her five children to the luau, said: “My son CJ plays tight end and (he) loves it. Tackle football encourages them to become men, be responsible, and work hard to learn the rules of the game.”
Mother Socorro Lopez agreed, saying of her son Esau’s first season: “He’s playing defense and said it really gets his adrenaline going. We’re looking forward to a great season.”
For more information, visit www.murrietapanthers.com.
Ashley Ludwig is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.