On a beautiful sun-drenched morning last Saturday, 179 of Monett's youth traveled to Cassville to begin the 2010 Mighty Mites football season.
"Jack Fox helped start Monett's Mighty Mites football program in the 1960s," said Mighty Mites President Sean Kelley. "Back then they mainly just scrimmaged each other. Today, we are able to field four teams (third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades) and play other towns near by."
While the athletes may be little, they are learning more than the game of football.
"We strive to teach these young kids the value of teamwork, fundamentals of the game and sportsmanship," Kelley said. "Every kid gets to play regardless of their talent level. We want this to be a fun experience for these children."
It takes a tremendous volunteer effort to keep the program running.
"In a given week dozens of people spend hundreds of hours volunteering helping this program be a success," Kelley said. "Jim Barta, the Mighty Mites vice president, is a tremendous help and also coaches his son's fifth grade team. Equipment managers Rob McGuire and Travis Allcock work extremely hard to keep the kids in football pads that fit properly.
"All of the extra work that the individuals put into this organization and the money donated and raised by the area businesses becomes worth it when you see the smiles and excitement on the kids faces," Kelley said.
The Mighty Mites program encompasses more than just football players. After all what is a football team without a cheerleading squad?
"The Mighty Mites cheer program is for any girl who wants to be a cheerleader," said Tina Kelley, Mighty Mites cheerleader coordinator. "The program takes away the need for tryouts and gives an equal opportunity for all girls to cheer.
"The Monett High School cheerleaders hold a summer camp for the girls," Tina Kelley added. "The girls learn how to do stunts, cheers and are even taught a halftime dance. The girls have a great time. This Friday during the Nixa game the MHS cheerleaders have invited the Mighty Mite girls to cheer with them."
Community support has been extremely strong for the program.
"Several businesses have helped us when we needed to raise funds," Sean Kelley said. "Last year we bought the kids new football helmets. We received a $6,000 grant from the Monett Community Foundation and raised $4,000 in a raffle to help cover the cost.
The cost to participate in the Mighty Mites program is $55. Scholarships are available for those who can't afford the fee.
"We want all the kids who want to participate to have that oppurtunity," Sean Kelley said.
For more information, visit www.monettyouthfootball.com.
The Mighty Mites will be action this Saturday, hosting Mt. Vernon.