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Let the games begin

COSTA MESA — Red and black are the colors for Costa Mesa Pop Warner, so there was a lot of red on the field at Jim Scott Stadium on Saturday for the organization’s opening day.

This was true even before league president Steve Mensinger pulled out his cell phone, with a red case of course.


Mensinger improvised.

“I tried to print out my speech, but my computer crashed,” he told the hundreds in attendance. “I’m going to use my iPhone here, hold on a second.”


Mensinger wore sunglasses, but he was able to read off his phone only so long before his eyes probably turned a little red, too. He was overcome with emotion for a bit after telling the crowd that this was his final year as Costa Mesa Pop Warner president. Later, after the brief 20-minute opening ceremony, he called the moment “bittersweet” and gave a good indication why.

“There’s a lot of commitment,” said Mensinger, who will stay on as president of the Estancia High sports boosters. “I don’t think people realize, four years ago Costa Mesa Pop Warner was four people over at Costa Mesa High School. Today, we have 28 board members. Nobody gets paid, obviously, and you just find the right people and put them in the right position. You can never thank them enough. You just do this because you love your kids, first of all, but you also love your community.

“The community I live in, we have the very wealthy, and the very poor, but they’re just great people.”

Plenty of them were there Saturday, even at 5 a.m. as the league hosted a pancake breakfast with an assist from Newport Beach-based Daddy Cakes and its owner, Dan Byers. The pancake breakfast was a fundraiser for Pop Warner, as well as the Estancia High football and golf teams and cheer program. Mensinger said about $6,000 was raised.


“Twelve-hundred people came through,” he said. “It’s a major fundraiser. This is the first year we did it, and we’re going to try to do it every year.”

Jim Scott himself was invited to the opening day ceremony, but was unable to come, Mensinger said. But it was always his dream to have the stadium to use for events like a Pop Warner opening day, and the perfect sunny weather with a breeze floating through also didn’t hurt.

Costa Mesa Pop Warner has 248 kids playing this year. There are 10 teams, and kids ranging from ages 5 (in flag football) all the way up to 15 (in midget). On Saturday, there was good reason the opening ceremonies were relatively short, as the teams were hosting scrimmages an hour later.

Jeremy Osso is an Estancia grad, but Saturday was one of the few times you would see Osso at his alma mater in a red polo shirt. He’s entering his fifth year as head coach at cross-town rival Costa Mesa, but Osso wore the red shirt on this day because he’s also head coach of the league’s flag football team of 5- and 6-year-olds, which includes his son J.J.


“Just today,” he said, smiling, of wearing the red shirt. “It’s bringing back memories.”

Osso’s flag squad includes a number of kids playing football for the first time, like Makai Lemon, 6. At this level, they don’t have positions, but Lemon said his favorite part of the game was “scoring touchdowns” and his favorite part of the opening ceremony was the special hit drill. Coach Sean Patterson led the players in the hit drill, the “Mesa break.”

As the kids dispersed and got ready for their scrimmages, Chris Cox also took it all in. Cox is just in his second year with Costa Mesa Pop Warner and he’s the vice president of the league, although he will become president next year.

“The kids are excited,” Cox said. “They’re ready to start playing football. Steve has done a phenomenal job turning this league into something substantial for our community. I just hope we can keep going what he started.”