Mesa County Junior Football Association continues to thrive and keep kids active
Tristan Lafferty loves playing video games like most 13-year-olds, but not as much as playing football.
He joined the Mesa County Junior Football Association because “it looked like fun.”
Four years later, he’s still having blast.
“I like doing things better than video games because I’ll get fat (playing video games alone),” he said.
“I’m making friends and meeting new people.”
Kellie Gross, 13, is having fun playing football because she’s not being pressured.
“A bunch of my friends said I’d be good at it,” said Gross, who plays nose guard for the Raiders in the lightweight division. “It’s tough at times, but I have fun. I like the hitting and tackling.
“No one tells me I need to step it up or do better.”
She is one of three girls and more than 1,000 children playing in the association this year.
“We are 80 percent full right now,” Association President Jim Bratcher said. “Every year we have more kids.”
By Bratcher’s count, the league grows 10 percent each year.
There were enough players in the sixth-grade division to add an entire team two years ago. The league is getting close to adding another team in the Clifton area.
Each Saturday, thousands of people pack Canyon View Park to play, cheer and support their junior football teams.
“You and I couldn’t stand here without it being wall-to-wall people,” Bratcher said. “We have 4,000 people here a week.
“It’s so packed, we haven’t been able to get an ambulance out (of the area where it’s parked).”
The association continues to grow, in part, because it accepts all interested children who meet age and weight requirements.
“If there are kids that can’t afford it and want to play, they fill out a form,” said Gary Schreiner, the board’s vice president. “We’ll have their parents do volunteer work to pay for it if we have to. We find a way. We don’t turn anybody away.”
It’s growing because the association encourages its coaches to play everybody.
“We encourage the coaches to get everybody in the game,” Schreiner said. “We want all the kids in
the league to play in ninth grade. We want them to enjoy it and go into the ninth grade.”
The Grand Junction High School varsity has 25 players who played for the Raiders in the junior football association, Schreiner said.
Alina Lafferty, Tristan’s mother, has no qualms about her two boys playing full-contact football.
“On a level of 1 to 10, I’d say they like it 11,” she said. “They love football. It’s everything to them.
“This program is phenomenal. All you’ve got to do is look and see how many parents are here. Mr. Bratcher is doing a phenomenal job.”
Alina once was concerned, especially when 10-year-old Jayden weighed only 34 pounds when he started playing four years ago. She isn’t concerned any more, even though Jayden broke his back in the first game this season.
“He rides motorcycles, plays basketball and baseball, too,” Lafferty said. “If you take away their passion, what do you have left?”
Jayden wore a back brace for a few weeks and begins rehab soon.
Kim Martinez doesn’t have a son playing in the league now, but she spends her entire Saturday at the games watching her two daughters, K’Andra Martinez-Gilmore and Marisol Martinez, cheer.
“Our Saturdays are utter chaos,” Martinez said. “We get up between 5 and 5:30 in the morning and we’re here until 4 or 4:30 at night.
“We’re all in bed by 8 (Friday night). The kids are shot by the end of the day (Saturday).”
Martinez’s daughters are two of more than 300 girls cheering.
“They love it,” Martinez said. “It keeps them involved. Even in the summer, they start practicing. It’s good for them. It keeps them active.”
Staying active is simply all the boys and girls are looking for.
“It was a good experience,” former player and current referee Mitch Howard said. “It’s fun to see what it’s like as a ref looking at what I played. The kids look smaller, but it looks like the talent level is high.”