Glendale Tornados, a Pop Warner squad, ready to touch down

When it comes to the concept of a feeder program to funnel youth football players into its high school ranks, Glendale has been going hungry for some time now.

Whether it's in the Pacific League or the CIF Southern Section at large, the football teams at cross-town rivals Glendale High and Hoover have struggled to compete, going a combined 14-85-1 over the last five seasons.

It's not hard to see that a lot of the disparity comes down to numbers, both in terms of experienced players and simply the number of bodies on the sideline, as the 25-man roster that the Nitros fielded this past season was but a typical example of the challenges the schools face in generating interest and involvement.

The founders of the Glendale Tornados, a brand new Pop Warner affiliate set to break ground in the fall, hope they've hit upon a solution to the problem.

It was mainly second-year Hoover High football Coach Andrew Policky who hatched the idea for a new youth program with Hoover as its home base with the desired effect of sowing a crop of young talent to fatten up the Hoover High Tornadoes' ranks for years to come.

"I was hoping if we have them practice and play games at Hoover and call them the Tornados, if they wear our stuff and play in our colors then we have a shot at getting them to come over to play at Hoover," said Policky, whose team went 0-10 last season.

As of Friday, the Tornados, who hope to feature tackle and flag football, as well as a cheerleading program, have signed up 70 players and already have enough to field teams in the Mighty Mite (ages 6-8) and Midget (ages 12-14) divisions.

"Those teams look like they're doing OK, but we still need players in the middle levels," said Andre Clarizio, a Hoover graduate, who also serves as the Tornados president. "Otherwise we're looking good. We could still use more cheerleaders out there, but we definitely will have a couple of teams doing something out there."

Of course, the Tornados won't be the only youth team playing in Glendale this fall. The city is already home to the Junior All-American affiliate Glendale Bears, who feature the same age-group tackle and flag and cheer programs and have been around since 1969.

But Clarizio said a main impetus for the development of the Tornados was the failure of the Bears to develop an adequate feeder program for the area it purports to represent.

"The idea kind of came up really through Andrew and the Hoover Booster Club just based on the fact that most high schools that have good football programs usually have some kind of feeder program," Clarizio said. "My son had played for the Glendale Bears and it was just disappointing to see that there weren't a lot of Glendale kids in that [program].

Added Policky: "A lot of those kids [from the Bears] end up playing at city schools like Eagle Rock and Marshall and Franklin."

Bears President Maricela Torres said the Bears' brand is firmly established in surrounding areas and the organization has made it a top initiative to concentrate its recruiting heavily within Glendale since a corruption scandal shook up its board of directors and ushered in new leadership in the summer of 2011.

Torres said that when the Bears moved their home operations to Glendale High's Moyse Field after the 2010 season, they formed a partnership with Glendale's administration and former Nitros Coach Alan Eberhart.

"They stepped up and were helping us out in how to recruit a lot more Glendale residents," said Torres, who said she also approached then Hoover Coach Chris Long about a similar alliance. "We want to become the Glendale feeder program. Are we there where we want to be right now? No. But are we adding more Glendale residents, is the awareness going out a lot more? It is."

Eberhart, who graduated from Glendale High, played football in the Bears program and has coached high school football in the area for decades, mostly at Crescenta Valley before coaching a three-year stint at his alma mater from 2009-11. He's been around long enough to remember when youth football in Glendale served the local high schools first and foremost, but has since seen a shift in the demographic.

"The Bears did do a poor job of recruiting up north and ended up with a lot of kids down south who didn't go to our schools," said Eberhart, who served on the Bears' board of directors during his recent Nitros stint. "When I was trying to get them to come to Crescenta Valley, they were really being pulled by Armando Gonzalez who was the coach at Franklin. They even changed the Bears' colors to the Franklin colors.

"We lost the Glendale Bears somewhere along the way and then the [La Cañada] Gladiators came in and over the last five, six, seven years, CV's best players have come out of that program."

Clarizio said that roughly 50% of the players the Tornados have signed up so far live within the Glendale Unified School District boundaries. The Bears did not provide similar data on their enrollment for the past season.

"We've been really trying to put out as many fliers [as we can] and showing our faces at schools in Glendale [such as] Toll junior high and a few of the elementary schools," Clarizio said. "We just want to show our faces and get in good with the faculty. We're trying to keep it real positive and make it a real family oriented type of program.

"As far as demographics, we wanted to tailor it more toward Hoover. We're not trying to steal [players] from any other programs. The main focus is always going to be for these kids to end up at Hoover and Glendale. That's really what we wanted."

Torres claims the Bears were already taking measures to engage students at area lower schools, such as Toll Middle School, where Clarizio is a flag football coach, but now it appears both organizations will be waging competing flier and face-to-face recruiting campaigns in the same schools.

"To tell you the truth, I was shocked a little bit when I heard that they were starting Pop Warner," Torres said. "Instead of starting a new league, it would have been nice if we had all tag-teamed together to really turn this Glendale Bears program to go back to what it used to be — being a program for our Glendale kids."

While they essentially offer the same product, prospective players will be able to pick and choose based on the few major differences between the two programs.

"The big difference is that Pop Warner is a national organization, so a child can come to Pop Warner and if their team is good enough they can actually go play for a national championship," Clarizio said. "Junior All-American is very similar, they've come a long way and they're a great program, that's just the main difference."

Torres pointed out that the Bears play a more localized schedule, mostly confined to stops up and down the Foothill (210) Freeway, while Clarizio said the Tornados schedule will include opponents as from cities as far away as Bel Air, Redondo and Hermosa.

How well the two programs can coexist is only the first test of the newly-formed Tornados, as well as the refocused Bears. A more long-term barometer of whether either program can make the desired difference lies not just in getting Glendale's best up-and-comers involved, but keeping them local once they reach high school age, especially when polished private school programs such as St. Francis and Cathedral continue to beckon from the surrounding areas.

"They probably are splitting the kids," Eberhart said of the Tornados and Bears. "It will be interesting to see if they can get enough kids to run two groups. I think it's a good idea, it's a good try, but just because you're starting a Tornado program doesn't mean those kids will play Tornado football.

"When we see who's coming to Glendale High, it will determine how successful this idea was for us to get involved in. If these kids don't come, we're just wasting our time."

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