A happy 50th for Costa Mesa youth

COSTA MESA — An 85-year-old man made his way down to the football field at Jim Scott Stadium on Saturday morning. Everyone involved with Costa Mesa Pop Warner seemed to know him.

People referred to him as “Mr. Pop Warner.”

Ed Baume is his real name and he has been involved with Costa Mesa Pop Warner for almost as long as it has existed.

Saturday’s event meant a lot to Baume. The first games are two weeks away, yet Costa Mesa Pop Warner held a special ceremony.

When the ceremony ran a little behind schedule, people stopped Baume and asked him, “What time are you going to start?”

Others needed help with the football equipment some of the kids wore.

“This doesn’t fit. That doesn’t fit,” Baume said of the complaints he heard, before he responded with, “This is not the day to tell me equipment doesn’t fit.”

The day belonged to Costa Mesa Pop Warner and its 50th anniversary celebration.

For 46 of those years, Baume has held a variety of titles with the organization. Baume, now the director of football, wasn’t too worried about things not running on time on Saturday.

The wait turned out to be worth it for the players, coaches, families, former players and coaches, and supporters of Costa Mesa Pop Warner in attendance.

Near the sideline, a Heisman Trophy winner stood underneath a canopy. Once the players ran onto the field in their helmets, uniforms and cleats, they saw Matt Leinart, the former USC star quarterback.

“It is an honor to be back here,” Leinart said. “I was just out here a couple of weeks ago. It is always, always great for me and my family to come back where it all started and where we grew up.”

Leinart went to St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Costa Mesa, before he attended Mater Dei in Santa Ana.

He told the kids on the field that he was in their shoes 20 years ago, playing his favorite sport. Then he offered them valuable advice.

“There [have] been two constant things in my life that have always remained with me through the ups and downs,” Leinart said. “I’ve always had a family that has always been there for me, no matter what. Family is always going to be important. [Family is] always going to be with you.

“No. 2 is something that’s very important and that I live by. Always remember where you came from.”

Leinart likes to give back to the community. He has the time right now as an NFL free agent.

While he waits for an NFL team to call, Leinart, 30, passed on more advice to the players, ranging from ages 7 to 14.

“You all want to be something in your life,” Leinart said. “First of all, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you cannot do that. I had a football coach when I was 14 years old tell me that I would never be a quarterback, I would never make it, to give up and do something else. I never listened to him. You guys don’t listen to anyone who tells you cannot do something.

“To achieve your dreams … you have to put in the time. You’re always going to go through ups and downs, but that’s what makes life so special. It’s when you encounter those different scenarios … whether it’s an injury in football or whether it’s a family problem, or it’s school, you have the choice to right that, you have the choice to work even harder and say, ‘You know what? I’m going to get past this. I have the strength and courage to succeed.’”

The message is one Josiah Lamarque said he’s heard before from Leinart. And it always inspires the 8-year-old, who is playing for the Costa Mesa Pop Warner Mighty Mite team.

Lamarque is one of 13 players returning to the team made up of 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds. Enrique “Kiki” Gomez is the head coach.

“We picked up a lot of speed this year,” said Lamarque, whose nickname is “Boogie” because the running back likes to juke would-be tacklers.

Dave Perkins remembers those days when he played running back for Costa Mesa Pop Warner. He was on its first team in 1963.

Perkins no longer can run like he used to, but the 61-year-old was honored during the ceremony.

Perkins’ team was in the Pee Wee division and called the Colts. This year’s Costa Mesa Pop Warner Pee Wee team will use the Colts name, instead of the Eagles, which the rest of the teams go by. Perkins said he felt honored by the name change.

Perkins, who went on to play at Newport Harbor High, then coach at both Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools, remembers how a friend got him involved with Costa Mesa Pop Warner 50 years ago.

“We were all playing flag football in junior high,” Perkins said. “We didn’t have any idea how to put on the shoulder pads. The hip pads were a real challenge. Where do you put these things? The knee pads, the thigh pads are all upside down.”

Too bad Perkins didn’t have Baume around back then to help him with the football equipment.