Joseph Pace was barely on the job a few weeks when he realized how steep the hill was that he would have to climb to get Cove’s youth tackle football program where it needs to be.
Pace was standing on the field during last year’s city championship game when he saw an athlete run by with a helmet that looked as if it were from his playing days.
“I saw the kid run by and I couldn’t believe the state of his equipment,” he said. “I cannot, in good conscience, send our athletes onto a football field, to play tackle, in this equipment — it’s not safe.”
The Parks and Recreation Department gets a stipend each year that can cover about 50 new helmets, but it’s not enough — not even close.
Just to save youth football this season, Pace said the program needs a lump sum of $12,000 — this after nearly $170,000 was cut from next year’s budget.
Pace understands the fiscal situation facing the city, but he also is in charge of the safety of nearly 250 children. A job he does not take lightly.
“I look at it as this, if I wouldn’t send my child out there, why would I send yours?” he said. “If we can’t raise the funds to replace this unsafe, outdated equipment, then tackle football season will be cut.”
It’s not an appealing option for a city that prides itself on its football to suddenly face the prospects of losing that identity — at least in the youth ranks.
According to Pace, the Copperas Cove Independent School District’s high school program has been very proactive in finding ways to save youth football.
‘need help — now’
“They’ve been a huge help to us and some stuff is in the works that I can’t speak on until it’s finalized,” he said. “But even then it won’t be enough. We need major help — now.”
Pace and Mark Willingham, the recreation coordinator, have discussed and are open to the idea of local businesses sponsoring the teams and are accepting donations as well.
They’ve always tried to keep the Parks and Rec leagues as pure as possible, but those days are gone. They understand the severity of the situation and are calling on the community to help.
“A successful parks and recreation program is dependent upon the city and the community,” Willingham said. “The parents and extended families of their athletes must step up in order for their children to participate.”
For more information or to donate, call 254-542-2719.