Normally, when football season kicks off for the North Long Beach Pop Warner Football and Cheer program in August, it’s typical to see groups of children piling into the cars of parent volunteers and coaches to go play against teams across the county.

But after the COVID-19 pandemic shut its season down last year, the nonprofit group that benefits local at-risk youth has been struggling financially.

Cherie Sterling, the program’s spokeswoman, said the organization is collecting donations through a fundraiser to replace old sports equipment and keep the program running. They were given the green light to have a season this fall, but with the extended pause brought on by the pandemic last year, Sterling said the program is rushing to catch up.

“We were unable to have fundraisers in the off season, and we were told last month that we can have a season,” Sterling said, “We weren’t selling dinners or going out into the community selling candy at the height of COVID. We are trying to catch up on everything that we put on hold in 2020.”

The 2019 class of the North Long Beach Football and Cheer program’s youth cheer team. Photo courtesy North Long Beach Football and Cheer.

The North Long Beach Pop Warner Football and Cheer program has been a staple in the community since the early 1990s, Sterling said. The program caters to children ages 5 through 14 by offering sports activities and mentorship. The kids play in a league that stretches to Orange County.

Sterling said the program has helped North Long Beach kids stay off the streets and remain active in sports. The program also rewards kids who show good grades in school, Sterling said.

“These kinds of programs are important,” Sterling said. “We take children who would be at-risk youth and give them something to do rather than being outside and getting into trouble. It gives them a sense of purpose.”

The North Long Beach program represents one of the lower-income areas in the conference, Sterling says. Because of that, they try to keep registration prices low. Every Saturday, unless it’s a holiday, the organization takes new registration sign-ups at Houghton Park. On Sundays, the program hosts workout sessions at Ramona Park, where kids can join in for $10.

Currently, Sterling said the program’s organizers are working to get the teams together.

“The kids are getting in shape—getting some of that quarantine weight off,” she said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to show that the Pop Warner season begins in August.