It began in 1929 when the owner of a new factory in Northeast Philadelphia enlisted the aid of a young friend, Joseph J Tomlin, to solve a recurring problem – the factor’s ground-to-floor windows were constantly being shattered by teenagers hurling stones from a nearby vacant lot. Others faced similar vandalism.
Tomlin had a possible answer – he suggested that the building owners get together to fund an athletic program for the kids. They agreed, and asked Tomlin to set up a program.
Fall was approaching, so football seemed a logical choice to begin the new project. He set up a schedule for a four-team Junior Football Conference in time for the 1929 season.
The Junior Football Conference had expanded to 16 teams by 1933. Tomlin met ‘Pop’ Warner at a winter banquet and asked him to lecture at a spring clinic Tomlin was planning for his league teams.
Glenn Scobie “Pop” Warner, born April 5, 1871 in Springville, New York, was captain of the Cornell University football team’ he got the nickname ‘Pop’ because he was older than most of his teammates. He graduated with a law degree in 1894.
Warner served as the head coach at the University of Georgia (1895–1896,) Iowa State University (1895–1899,) Cornell University (1897–1898, 1904–1906,) the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1899–1903, 1907–1914,) the University of Pittsburgh (1915–1923,) Stanford University (1924–1932) and Temple University (1933–1938.) In his retirement, he was an advisor to the San Jose State football coach.
Warner completed his career with 300-plus wins, however his legacy has little to do with mere win totals. His innovations in equipment, practice methods and game strategy laid the groundwork for football as we recognize it today.
Warner devised light-weight uniforms designed for speed, and invented the blocking sleds and tackling dummies still in use. Pop was also responsible for the reverse, the double wing, the crouching start for backs, many modern blocking schemes, and the reverse handoff on kickoffs. (Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame)
On the evening of April 19, 1934, the temperature dropped to an unseasonable low, with high winds and torrential rain mixed with sleet. Of the dozen area college football coaches scheduled to speak at the clinic, only Pop Warner showed up.
The 800 excited young football players kept him talking and answering questions for two hours. By the end of the evening, by popular acclaim, the fledging youth program was renamed the Pop Warner Conference.
By 1938, there were 157 teams. Back then, it was not a ‘midget’ or ‘peewee’ league; in the beginning, most of the players were at least 15 years old and a few were even over 30.
Competition was organized along top weights only, except for the youngest kids. Teams represented neighborhoods in the city, while suburban teams represented towns.
When World War II came, the Pop Warner Conference lost most of its older players. Some squads folded, while others merged. Only 42 teams remained. (Pop Warner)
In 1946, Tomlin envisioned expanding the program across the country; he and members of a local Philadelphia team headed to Hawai‘i to play against the first team there. (Balthaser)
in the 1947 season, there was a shift in membership. Many of the returning service-men abandoned football. Increasingly, the teams were composed of 15-year-olds or younger. Rules were set up for their benefit, including minimum and maximum weights. The era of “midget football” had begun.
The first “kiddie” bowl game, called the Santa Claus Bowl, was played on December 27, 1947, in 6 inches of snow before 2000 freezing spectators. The Clickets midget team, sponsored by Palumbo’s, a Philadelphia supper club, competed against Frank Sinatra’s Cyclones, a New York team.
The conference quickly expanded in the early 1950s. The Hawai‘i Pop Warner conference formed in 1955, Hawai‘i football great Tom Kaulukukui was one of its founders and was initial head. (Krauss) In 1959, the first national season began.
Pop Warner Little Scholars was officially incorporated as a national non-profit organization in 1959. The name was selected to underscore the basic concept of Pop Warner – that the classroom is as important as the playing field.
Proof of satisfactory progress in school is required. Players, as well as cheerleaders, must maintain a “C” average (2.0/70% or the equivalent) to be eligible to participate.
Boys were typical players of football (however, some girls did play the game.) Pop Warner later introduced cheerleading to the program.
The first National Cheerleading Competition was held in 1988 and now shares the spotlight with the annual Pop Warner Super Bowl, held each year at Walt Disney World.
Today, Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc is a non-profit organization that provides youth football and cheer & dance programs for participants in 42 states and several countries around the world.
Consisting of approximately 400,000 young people ranging from ages 5 to 16 years old, Pop Warner is the largest youth football, cheer and dance program in the world.