Little Grizzly Football: Much More Than Just a Sport

By ERIN TURNER

If you were a boy who grew up in Missoula in the last three or four decades, then you may remember Little Grizzly Football.

Thousands of 5th-8th grade boys have gone through the Little Grizzly Football program over the years. This mainstay program of Missoula has inspired many boys and given them unmatched skills, both athletically and personally.

Our family has been a part of Little Grizzly for the last three years. I have to be honest: When our oldest son came to us and ask to join tackle football both my husband and I were adamantly opposed.

But after talking to other parents and some coaches, we hesitantly agreed to let him play. What we expected was a group of coaches who were only interested in the next Tony Romo and having the kids hit hard and growl at the opponents. What the program ended up to be was so much more than what we expected.

From the very beginning, the coaches demand disciple and respect – not with force or screaming but with a gentle firmness, an expectation of effort, and a mutual respect. Those coaches look deep into the eyes of those sweet, little boys and see the potential of each of them.

Each player is valued and given equal opportunity despite varying levels of skill. Everyone plays and everyone is coached to be a good winner and an even better loser. From these very humble beginnings, our love affair with Little Grizzly began.

The Little Grizzlies take the field in a scrimmage.

The Little Grizzlies take the field in ascrimmage.

This year our middle son joined the ranks of the generations of Little Grizzlies. He has dreamed of being a Little Grizzly for years! Once again, those coaches embraced a new batch of players in August and molded them into young men who could play some serious football at the end of the season!

It’s like watching an artist create a masterpiece. Over six weeks, they took 25 boys who varied in skills and athletic ability and formed a team who worked like a well-oiled machine on the field and who were a band of brothers off the field. Little Grizzly Football is magic!

Little Grizzly wouldn’t be in existence if it wasn’t for the dedication of the volunteer coaches, manager and officials. Plus, the outpouring of community support through sponsorship is incredible.

But I have to say, it’s the coaches’ dedication which is unmatched. These guys are there at every two hour practice for three or four nights a week, plus give their Saturday mornings for game times. None of them ever complain and genuinely are happy to be doing what they do! I am always so grateful to their wives for sharing their husbands during this time of the year! The coaches’ commitment is a true testament to the awesomeness of Little Grizzly football.

Little Grizzly program got its start 30-40 years ago in Missoula by Bill Craig, former Mayor of Missoula. It began as a need in our community and it grew quickly. Even though some of the structure has changed over the decades, the core values and mission of the program have stayed the same: player involvement, fundamentals, and sportsmanship.

Post-game high fives.

Post-game highfives.

The mission of the program also addresses the importance of teaching this age how to win and lose and individual work as well as team work. Each player is encouraged to play hard and to the best of his ability.

Over the years, Little Grizzly has seen many of its players go on to be successful high school and college players.

Some have even gone on to the ultimate dream of playing in the NFL, including John Elway, David Kempfert, Joe Cummings, and Timm Rosenbach. Dylan Steigers was also a hometown hero who not only played for Little Griz but also coached a Little Grizzly 7th and 8th grade team for a year before going on to play at Eastern Oregon University.

As a mother, I truly appreciate the care and caution the program takes in making sure the equipment is up-to-date and has passed safety testing.

Erin's son is all smiles after a Little Grizzly game.

Erin’s son is all smiles after a Little Grizzlygame.

I appreciate that a 200-pound player isn’t allowed to carry the ball so that my 80-pound 5th grader doesn’t have to attempt tackling him. I appreciate the coaches calling a halt to practice when a player isn’t tackling properly and they take the time to teach the proper method time and again.

The program takes the new focus of concussions very seriously and makes it a priority. As a mom, these are the qualities that I value and expect in a program in which my children are a part.

The season has concluded for the 2012 season much to the dismay of hundreds of 5-8th graders. Today, my son said with much sadness, “This is the second Saturday I haven’t had a game.” Little Grizzly left its paw print on his heart.

Both our sons loved their football years and are better young men because of the program. There is no way I could have taught them the discipline of timing that their coaches taught them or instilled the importance of developing a deep loyalty to their “football brothers” on and off the field.

So, after a very hesitant start to our sons’ Little Grizzly careers, we are now some of the program’s biggest supporters. It taught our boys so much more than just good football and we know that this program will continue to have the same impact on our youngest son in a few years and many more generations of Missoulians in the decades to come!

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Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, and sticking to a budget in her blog archive. And be sure to check out the Missoula Save it Club.

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Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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