By Ilan Mochari
Photos by Kelly MacDonald
“Down, set, go!” With those three words, Kehinda Oshodi, 29, a fourth-year offensive lineman on the Boston Militia, exhorts the players on Somerville’s top-level Pop Warner squad (the “A” team). Dressed in black shorts and a Militia t-shirt, she crouches (“down”), adjusts to a three-point stance (“set”), and explodes out of her crouch (“go”), blasting the player opposite her and creating a seal on the left side. After finishing the demonstration, she explains the concepts of zone blocking and gap responsibility.
There are at least five girls playing Pop Warner (PW) this year, and several attribute their involvement to the visibility of the Militia, who recently won a second straight title. For the last two seasons, eight-year-old Jade’a West has worn number 85 in homage to Militia tight end Emily Weinberg, also a participant at PW practices.
Steve Ortolani, 57, coach of the “C” team, is grateful for the recruiting of Militia defensive lineman Holli Banks (also the Scout publisher). “She got me two girls for my team, and they’re both pretty good athletes,” he says. Ortolani began with PW in 1991. A lieutenant at Ladder 3 in the Somerville Fire Department, he now works with four firemen whom he first came to know when they were boys in PW, and he was their coach.
The PW coaches are an all-volunteer staff who routinely devote three-hour evenings on the field, four nights a week, in addition to scads of off-field game prep. And like most football coaches, they prefer not to discuss the hours. Their focus is simply their next opponent which, on the evening of August 16, was West Lynn. Led by their passionate coaches, the six PW squads (“A” through “F,” based on age and weight) each practiced in their own section of Foss Park (corner of Broadway and McGrath Hwy). The players wore their Century Bank-sponsored red-and-white jerseys. Nearby, the PW cheerleaders rehearsed.
Most squads did not have enough players to simulate 11- on-11 game conditions. PW President Roger Desrochers, in his 22nd year with the nonprofit, says that if he had one wish for the organization, it’s that “more kids would get involved.” There are many reasons he doesn’t have enough kids, but cost is not one of them. Pop Warner always covers the $70 registration fee for parents who can’t afford it. “I don’t turn any kids away,” he says. Currently two-thirds of the PW kids play for free. Desrochers credits his corporate sponsors for the funding, as well as two annual “canning” drives, where players stand outside stores holding cans and asking for contributions.
After practice, the Militia met up at Dilboy Stadium (110 Alewife Brook Pkwy), where they were being fitted for championship rings. It was no ordinary ring-fitting: In defeating the San Diego Surge, 34-19, on July 30, the Militia established themselves as the premier woman’s team in the U.S. Their 2011 crown came in the ultra-competitive Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) – a step up from their 2010 Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL) title.
At Dilboy to witness the festivities and meet the champs were a few PW girls, including Jocely Pierre Louis – a sixth grader at the West Somerville Neighborhood School (177 Powderhouse Blvd) who at first went to Foss Park to be a PW cheerleader. She was reluctant to play football because she was “scared I was gonna get tackled.” But at the persuasion of West’s mother, she gave football a try. “I liked it when I started playing,” she says. Now she especially likes defense. “Because I get to tackle people.”