Celebrating 25 years, Jefferson County Youth Football started the 2013 season with opening ceremonies Saturday morning at Marcus Field in Ranson.
The league, according to president Jimmy Pierson, was started in 1988 by Kenny Anders and him, both longtime advocates of youth sports and recreation in their home county.
JCYFL began with 74 participants at Leetown Park. That number included football players and cheerleaders, Pierson told the crowd gathered Saturday.
Taking the field during the day's opening this year were nearly 400 players and cheerleaders.
The players, making up 13 teams of varying ages, are part of the Eastern Panhandle's Tri-County League and will play not only their local competitors but those from Berkeley and Morgan counties as well.
Pierson took the time during the Saturday's event to compliment the city of Ranson for its continued support of the local football program.
"The city thrives to put facilities and programs together for children all over the county, not just within Ranson," Pierson said.
He also commended the Marcus family who donated the field that is home to the league.
"There are cities that don't have the facilities that we are blessed with," he said. "We could never do this without the support of the City and the community."
Pierson shared that through donations from the community, including Ranson city officials, the league has been the recipient of more than $2 million over the past few years, including the development of Marcus Field.
Thanks to those donations, the enrollment fees for the league have been kept lower than many leagues.
He shared with parents and other spectators that the funds collected via registration, gate admissions and concession proceeds help keep the league self-sufficient.
The fees, he said, cover equipment, insurance, uniforms, rental of practice spaces around the county and all other financial costs of the league.
The league, Pierson said, is more like a family, despite the sometimes competitive natures that emerge. To show the support given to members of the league and the community at large, JCYFL took time Saturday to present the Kenny Anders Scholarship.
The scholarship is given to a former JCYFL football player or cheerleader who went on to play or cheer at one of the county's high schools.
This year's recipient of the award was Tyler Wilt. Tyler, who graduated Washington High School last year, was faced with a fight against cancer during his senior year that caused him to miss playing football. Wilt, who played six years with JCYFL, was Washington's quarterback.
After battling his illness and facing months of treatment, Wilt now is enrolled at Shepherd University, where he will play football this year. Accepting the scholarship on behalf of his son was proud father Troy Wilt.
In addition to offering the scholarship to Wilt, the league also had spent the 2012 season raising funds each week during the season to assist another player, Hunter Ray. Hunter was on hand Saturday to share his story.
"I have Type I Diabetes," Ray told the crowd.
He shared that the football league, along with others in the community, helped him raise nearly $10,000 to purchase a dog who can detect when Ray's blood sugar is too high or too low.
"Shadow," a 6-month old black lab, was with Ray as he thanked the crowd for their support in making his dream come true.
Continuing with the tradition of helping those within their football community, JCYFL stepped up to the plate once again in providing a starting donation of $500, this time to a young family who lost their husband and father earlier this year.
Spartan Pee Wee cheer coach Jenne Young was on the field with her daughters as the story was shared of how they lost Dave Young to heart disease at the age of 32.
There was no medical history of such disease, and Young was taken from them completely unawares.
Pierson urged all in the stands to watch for and place funds into the JCYFL donation bucket that will be at each game this season to help this young family.
"This is part of our family," he said fighting back tears. "What we do here will make a huge difference in this young family's life," he continued as he urged all to put not change, but paper into the donation.
Following all of these opening remarks, presentations and introductions of the teams, the players took the field to start season play. Players and coaches alike are ready for the season.
Eric Smoot, head coach of the Pee Wee Rams, had nothing but good things to say about JCYFL.
"I played in the league as a Ram and now I am a coach. I have a son who plays and a daughter who cheers," he shared.
While Smoot said he was a little leery of starting his young son playing the sport early, he is convinced that JCYFL is the place to be.
"This is the place where they learn correctly," Smoot said. He also said that the evolution of safe equipment and the league's efforts to reach high standards have encouraged him to allow his son to play.
All of the players, cheerleaders and coaches showed excitement over the start of the season and have high hopes to bring home all the championship honors in the Tri-County League.