All in the 'Pack: Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park football programs resolve issuesLeaders of the Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park youth football programs recently drew up a game plan repairing their once-strained relationship.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, South Washington County Bulletin
Leaders of the Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park youth football programs recently drew up a game plan repairing their once-strained relationship.
Back in February, the longtime affiliation between the Cottage Grove Athletic Association and St. Paul Park Athletic Association youth football programs nearly came to an end after the CGAA football board sent a letter to the SPPAA announcing it intended to cut the ties between the programs. However, the two groups have now come to an agreement to form a new Junior Wolfpack football program.
Under the partnership, kids from first grade through sixth grade from St. Paul Park and Cottage Grove will all play under the Junior Wolfpack football umbrella instead of for St. Paul Park football and Cottage Grove football, as they have in the past.
“What we’ve done is just basically put all the kids in the draft together, so that they can be drafted and play together, but the programs haven’t merged,” Junior Wolfpack football president Brent Cuttell — the former CGAA football president — said. “The Junior Wolfpack program wants to create a community identity and a pride in the Wolfpack. By having the kids play together, we’re doing that at a much earlier age than we have in the past.”
For the most part, kids from St. Paul Park and Cottage Grove go on to attend Park High School. The issues between the two communities’ football programs came to a head just before Darin Glazier became the new football coach at Park High School.
Glazier said he is excited about the new partnership.
“The big reason to do this is try to get rid of the separation between cities and communities,” Glazier said. “It’s one program moving forward and they’re all going to be playing together.”
Marshall Freeman, the former SPPAA football director, said he believed the partnership to be a step in the right direction.
“It’s a good thing,” Freeman said. “We all worked out our issues and problems and we’re one group now working toward a common goal to have the youth groups be a feeder for the high school and make the whole program better.”
Throughout the summer, in addition to St. Paul Park and Cottage Grove combined teams, the Junior Wolfpack program will have a number of combined practices, where four to six teams learn from a number of coaches, not only their team’s coach.
“We want to build program camaraderie and dedication to Wolfpack football,” Cuttell said. “Instead of having 12 to 15 kids practicing all over Cottage Grove, sometimes we’ll have 60, 70, 80 kids showing up for a practice where we can teach fundamentals to a larger group. Kids will get to know each other better and coaches will be forced to work together. We’re all in the Junior Wolfpack program, and it’s in our best interest to teach all the kids.”
Leaders from St. Paul Park, Cottage Grove and Park have been working on a solution since early March.
“We’ve created a program where the kids go through the draft together, practice together and play games together,” Cuttell said. “That direction was led by the momentum of coach Glazier taking over the football program at Park. He owns the whole program from varsity down to first grade. He understands that his responsibility is the entire football program. We’re just stewards of the program and are here to help him take this where he wants it to go.”
Glazier said the best part of the agreement is that everybody will be working together from “day one.”
“From first-grade flag football they have the Wolfpack tie-in and there’s no SPAA football or CGAA football anymore,” Glazier said. “There’s been some friction between the sides at times over the years and I didn’t see that as a real positive thing for our community. All these kids are going to be playing together, there’s no reason to have issues down below when we have Woodbury and East Ridge to deal with.”
The Junior Wolfpack football program is a nonprofit volunteer organization serving roughly 350 football players from both St. Paul Park and Cottage Grove between first and sixth grade. The program includes three levels — Mites (grades 1 and 2), Wee Pees (grades 3 and 4) and Pee Wees (grades 5 and 6).
Mites is an introductory flag football program with little player-to-player contact. No pads are worn at this level. However, the Mites program has designated teams with weekly practices and flag football games. The Wee Pee program is 9-man full contact football on an 80-yard field. At this level, players are introduced to proper tackling and blocking techniques. They also begin to learn the rules of the game and compete in games played against other Junior Wolfpack teams. The Pee Wee program is full-contact, 11-man football played on a regulation size football field and is the final step before junior high football. Pee Wee games are played against Hastings, Prescott, Wis., and other internal Junior Wolfpack teams.
Prior to the partnership, the CGAA football program had roughly 300 players in it from Mites to Pee Wees, while the SPPAA had roughly 30 to 35 kids in football at the Wee Pee and Pee Wee levels and no Mite level.
Not everyone, however, is on board with the new structure.
Freeman said because of the partnership “a couple” of St. Paul Park families have decided not to sign their kids up for football this summer.
“That’s their right and their prerogative,” Freeman said. “Ninety-eight percent of the parents that we’ve had contact with over the course of registrations have been willing to give this a try. There’s a couple percent that want their own identity still. We’ve talked to those parents, too. In the long run I think this will be a positive change for both the communities, the football programs and the high school.”