Gorch on the Porch: Pop Warner teams headed to Florida

The La Porte Pop Warner Varsity cheer squad won the regional to advance to the national finals next week at Disney World in Florida.

With all the success the La Porte High School football team has had over the years — especially in the last decade — you would think the La Porte Pop Warner football program would have garnered more accolades in the process.

Then again, in Pop Warner, judging success is totally subjective.

Is a winning season successful? Do you need to at least win a state title? Regional title?

These are young kids whom coaches are trying to mentor while teaching them the basics of football, and hopefully they fall in love with the sport and keep playing.

Like with every other level in every other youth sport, winning shouldn’t matter as much as those other things.

The La Porte Pop Warner Mitey Mites team went 6-3 this season and finished state runner-up, losing to a very good Michiana squad.

But the Mitey Mites have been rewarded by getting a trip to Walt Disney World this coming weekend to participate in a pair of exhibition games at the Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

They will face the Waterbury Patriots from Connecticut and the Gilford Jets from North Carolina.

“The Mitey Mites division doesn’t have a national playoff, though I think it’s headed that way in the near future,” La Porte Pop Warner commissioner Tony Zarantonello said.

So how did they get chosen for the coveted trip?

“Pop Warner looked through the programs in our area, and I think they offered it to one coming up and that would be a good representative of the Mid-America Region,” Zarantonello said.

The surprising part to me is that it’s the first time a LaPorte Pop Warner football team has gotten a trip to Florida, according to Zarantonello. But the 9-year-old boys won’t be the only La Porte Pop Warner individuals hanging out at Disney World.

La Porte’s Varsity (formerly the Midgets division) cheer squad will be competing next week in the national cheerleading finals after winning state and regional earlier this month.

So it’s going to be a nice long stay in much better weather (the forecast for the Orlando area for the next week is between 79 and 81 degrees and mostly sunny) for the Zarantonello family since Tony’s wife, Peggy, is the cheer coordinator, and that squad isn’t competing until Friday, Dec. 8.

The Mitey Mites football head coach is Mike Nelson, while the cheer head coach is Wendy Childress.

Another surprise to me is how Michigan City Pop Warner football teams have done so well over the years — including a national title in 2010 and other national appearances, including the 2012 runner-up squad — but have only now reaped the rewards of that success at the high school level with their first sectional and regional titles. Then again, those 2010 and 2012 kids are now on the high school team and have a great coaching staff to lead them.

MC Pop Warner does get kids from other areas, such as Chesterton, Gary and other parts of La Porte County, while Zarantonello said La Porte tries to stick with kids in the La Porte city limits. And there isn’t anything wrong with either way. This isn’t the Indiana High School Athletic Association with its complicated transfer rules.

Both high schools have received talented players from Pop Warner that have helped produce winning seasons. After all, La Porte did win the Duneland Conference title in 2016 and was second this year before losing to City in the sectional final.

Other Northwest Indiana Pop Warner programs have had long postseason runs that eventually lead to high school success, such as Lowell over the years (three state runner-up finishes, including this past weekend, and a state title over the last 13 seasons).

Speaking of Michigan City, two MC Pop Warner cheer teams will be joining the La Porte girls at nationals in two different divisions. So there’s a chance at having multiple teams bringing home some hardware — as well as souvenirs from Disney World. The Zarantonello family might have more than most.

Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at sgorches@thenewsdispatch.com or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.

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