Youth football & cheer Eastlake Panthers are on the prowl

Phillip Brents

Fri December 26, 2014 11:07am

The success of the Eastlake High School football team is not by accident. The Eastlake Panthers youth football and cheer program, which utilizes the school’s football field, has served as a pipeline to higher levels of play for student-athletes.
Did you know that current NFL Arizona Cardinals player Tony Jefferson once wore a Panthers uniform? Jefferson played for the Panthers Midget team that would also feature Eastlake High School alums Gabe Gomez, Daniel Diaz and Joseph Bigornia — members of the Titans’ history-making San Diego Section Division I championship team in 2009.
The Panthers’ penchant for success continued this past season as the program’s Mitey Mite Black team won the San Diego Youth Football Q-Bowl championship in its age division and subsequently traveled to Las Vegas to compete in the National Youth Football Championship Tournament, securing a runner-up finish over Thanksgiving weekend.
The Panthers won their first game, 19-0, against Lakewood from Los Angeles and lost, 12-7, to the Santa Monica Vikings in the national championship game. The Panthers defeated the Los Toros Bulls, 22-8, in the Q-Bowl final Nov. 15 at Madison High School.
The Mitey Mite’s Q-Bowl championship title was the fourth for the team’s coaching staff, according to Panthers coach Clark Moses. Previously, the coaching staff had guided Eastlake teams to Q-Bowl titles at the Mitey Mite (once) and Jr. Pee Wee (twice) levels. It is the sixth overall Q-Bowl title for the Panthers program, which, according to Moses, is believed to be the most championship titles won by a Chula Vista youth football association.
“It’s great for the program — it’s exciting,” Eastlake president Burt Grossman explained. “It’s at the Mitey Mite level, those kids will play as a group through the eighth grade.” Moses said the coaching staff also won two national championships prior to this season — one at the Mitey Mite level and another with an eighth-grade all-star team. “We were starting all over this year at the Mitey Mite level,” Moses said.
This year’s Eastlake Mitey Mite Q-Bowl championship team finished 12-0 with the league’s best defense, having allowed just 22 points in 12 games. Tre Edwards scored two of the team’s three touchdowns in the Q-Bowl victory and teammate Isaiah Lane scored one touchdown. The Mitey Mite age division includes third- and fourth-graders, children aged 8 and 9 years old.
“At this age, all the kids are eager to learn while being introduced to the game of football,” Moses said. “We had a great group of supportive parents, which you tend to have at this age.”
Panthers pride
Officially dubbed Eastlake Youth Football and Cheer, the Eastlake Panthers association offers teams at seven age/skill levels: Flag, Tiny Mite, Mitey Mite, Jr. Pee Wee, Pee Wee, Jr. Midget and Midget. Overall, the Panthers qualified six teams for the 2014 playoffs: Mitey Mite Black and Mitey Mite Grey, Jr. Pee Wee, Pee Wee, Jr. Midget and Midget.
Moses, who also serves as coaching director for the Eastlake association, said he believes organized youth sports programs offer children “the opportunity to build their self esteem, learn the concept of teamwork, dedication, discipline and improve their physical fitness.”
“Specifically, our current president, Burt Grossman, emphasizes to our football and cheer coaches that we have to instill in the Panther boys and girls that the most successful people in life exhibit the character traits of hard work, dedication, discipline, teamwork and academics,” Moses explained. “The coaches are challenged by him to instill those traits into the young Panthers. Participating in football and cheer is definitely a microcosm of our society. You have to learn how to win and lose and understand how to deal with both scenarios.” A sense of pride and accomplishment permeates the program, Moses said.
“I think that I can speak for myself and the other football and cheer coaches when I say that the most gratifying thing is to be able to volunteer in the community, and watch the young kids mature into young adults through hard work and adversity,” he explained. 
“We believe that kids who are a part of the Panther program tend to become more well- rounded young men and women by the time they enter high school. The Panther program is relatively young in comparison to some of the other programs that have been around for 40 to 50 years. The leadership of our past presidents — Charles Gordon, Armando Najera, Joe Heinz and Burt Grossman (current) — has always instilled a sense of pride in our community and the program. 
“The presidents have put a focus on building tradition in the Panther program so that former Panthers will come back to volunteer after they are done with high school and college. In fact, we are currently seeing that our former Panthers are now coming back to coach football and cheer in the community.
“There is a list of successful Panthers who are in college or have graduated high school and college and are productive citizens in their communities.” 
Give them a cheer
In the second component of the SDYFC organization, Eastlake captured three first-place finishes in the county cheer competition: Flag, Mitey Mite and Senior divisions.
The competition took place Oct. 26 at Golden Hall.
“These girls work really hard all season and their hard work and dedication paid off,” Panthers cheer director Eva Riley explained.
The Flag Division consists of 5- to 6-year-olds, the Mighty Mite Division 7- to 9-year-olds and the Senior Division 10- to 13-year olds. Riley noted the coaches and trainers worked very hard to get the girls’ skills up to competition level.
“These teams have been practicing since July 28, cheering since Aug. 23,” Riley explained. “They could not have reached these goals without the time and effort of their coaches, who gave these girls eight to 10 hours a week plus their weekends for practice and games. The dedication of these coaches is something to be recognized and commended. Four of our coaches are current high school varsity cheerleaders for Eastlake, Olympian and Otay Ranch high schools.” Riley would like to give a special shout-out to coach Frankie Tatingfong, who helps with all the teams.
Cheer coaches for this season’s winning teams included Evamarie Riley (Flag Division); Amber Hathaway, Patricia Schwenke, Akira Youngblood, Theresa Riley and Elizabeth Riley (Mighty Mite Division); and Courtney Cobb, Kelly Buchanan and Haley Medina (Senior Division).
“We had a wonderful season because of our coaching staff who were dedicated to the girls. We were up against a lot of associations, including three from neighboring schools, Otay Ranch Broncos and Bonita Buccaneers, just to name a few.”  
Riley said competing in youth cheer allows the girls to learn the skills of team building, self-confidence and making new friends “whom they see in the community and will grow up with, and they will always be Panthers, no matter which high school they end up going to.” The Panthers Mitey Mite and Senior cheer teams are in the process of competing for a chance to advance to the upcoming nationals in Las Vegas on Jan. 23.
First and 10
The Bonita Buccaneers and Otay Ranch Broncos are adjoining youth football associations. Both organizations advanced teams to November’s Q-Bowl championship games to underscore the talent in the eastern Chula Vista region. The Bucs won the Pee Wee championship while the Broncos recorded three runner-up finishes: Jr. Pee Wee, Pee Wee and Jr. Midget.
Grossman, who is in his first year as association president, is one of two former San Diego Chargers affiliated with the Panthers program, the other being Eric Parker. Grossman played defensive end for the Bolts from 1989 to 1993 before finishing his NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles. During his six-year career, he racked up 45 quarterback sacks and three safeties. Parker, a wide receiver, played the first six seasons of his NFL career with the Chargers from 2002 to 2007. He accumulated 187 catches for 2,586 yards and 11 touchdowns during his stay in San Diego.
Grossman said the Panthers’ Q-Bowl titles say much about the coaching, volunteerism and organization of the program given that it encompasses only a slice of one city and competes with surrounding associations for playing talent.
“We have many associations packed together — it’s so rich in talent but you have to fight for that talent,” Grossman said. “We’re here in one corner of eastern Chula Vista, and some of the other associations we play against can draw talent from an entire city, so we’re pretty happy with what we’ve done.”