Football academics

Football takes a back seat when it comes to the La Canada Gladiators.

The Gladiators have been providing athletes of ages 6-14 the chance to get their feet underneath them on the football field since 1968.

However, what Gladiator athletes accomplish off the field is more important than what they do on it.

"Our focus remains the same,â€ÃƒÂ‚¿Â¿ Gladiators President Kevin Lacey said. "We use football as a vehicle to build character, show kids the proper way to behave in a certain situation and apply it to what they do elsewhere."

The organization's focus is not only to teach kids the game of football, but to encourage a strong showing in the classroom, all while having a good time.

"If you happen to win a football game in the process, it's all good,"Lacey said.

Practices and scrimmages are underway for the Gladiators' seven teams as they gear up for their 42nd season, which begins Sept. 18.

A lot can be learned or reinforced through the sport of football, Lacey said, because the team spends a lot of time together practicing.

"We demand our kids not just be good students, but good kids," said Keenan Cheung, coach of a Gladiators' Midget team. "It's not about the team and it's not about winning; we want to create all-around children."

In order to play for the Gladiators, athletes must maintain a minimum 2.0 grade-point average.

At the end of the season, the Gladiators' San Gabriel Valley Conference of Junior All-American Football presents a scholastic trophy to a team in each division with the highest cumulative grade-point average. In the past 25 years, Gladiator teams have earned more than 21 scholastic trophies.

The conference also awards scholarship trophies to the individual football player and cheerleader with the highest grade-point average of each team. A sportsmanship award is also given to the team with the highest sportsmanship score, determined by officials who rate each team in several categories after each game.

Last year, Cheung's team won the scholastic trophy. This year, he has high hopes for his squad again.

Cheung's Midget team of 11- to 13-year-olds is two-time defending conference champs. The team won nine games by 30 or more points in a 10-game season last year.

Still, there is always room to improve, Cheung said.

Not only is he looking to achieve a more balanced offensive attack, shifting from a run-heavy offense to a balanced attack in the air and on the ground, but he also wants to instill in his team the importance of playing up until the final whistle.

"Last year, there were a few games where we were a bit lax on defense," Cheung said. "We want to play and keep our focus better throughout the course of the season."

Cheung's goals are for his team to finish the season with another championship, and with the scholastic and sportsmanship awards.

"It's attainable, we just have to keep our focus," Cheung said.

Throughout the season, the organization cares more about its players acing their tests than winning their games.

"If at the end of the year I can say all the kids are doing better in school, are better behaved and their parents are happy, I don't care if they don't win any games," Lacey said.

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