MICHIGAN CITY — For Wesley Scully, coaching middle school and Pop Warner football isn't about making a name for himself or living vicariously through the success of his players.
Youth sports is full of adults who are involved for all the wrong reasons, but the Michigan City middle school and 14U Pop Warner coach isn't one of them.
Scully's trying to use the sports as a means to setting his team on a path to success, not just on the field but off it.
"I tell my kids all the time, 'It's never about football with me or my staff," he said. "It's about using the game of football to create great men, better fathers and ultimately the next leaders who can help our society progress.'"
After coaching the school team to an undefeated season, Scully and his coaches chose 23 players from the roster of 56 to represent M.C. in the Pop Warner division. Throwing, catching, running and tackling were part of the checklist, but not the only requirements.
"We have some Division I-type athletes, kids who are going to benefit the high school program," Scully said. "(Wolves) coach (Phil) Mason has established a winning tradition, but he's also trying to establish a culture. Kids were chosen based on their skill level, but academics and effort were also criteria. We require them to maintain a 2.0 grade point average minimum. Fortunately, most of the best players represent themselves well."
The team is comprised largely of Michigan City boys and made a few key pickups in adding La Porte eighth graders, quarterback Tyler Bush and end Jacob Clark.
"I'm used to playing with most of them," Bush said. "We've got athletes on both sides of the ball."
M.C. blanked Southlake 31-0 at the state level, then edged Homewood-Flossmoor 16-13 in the regional semifinals Nov. 9 at La Porte's Kiwanis Field.
"It was the most competition we've had all year," Scully said. "The kids stepped up to the plate."
The regional game not only marked the first time the team had been scored upon, it was the first time it had been behind as well.
"We just kept playing hard," receiver Elijah Collins, a Michigan City eighth grader, said.
H-F led in the third quarter when James Fleming Jr. scored his second touchdown to put MC back in front and it held on for the hard-fought win.
"The defense got us stops," Bush said. "They've been good all year."
The pass-based attack utilizes the team's array of playmakers, including Fleming.
"He's the rock of the team, our Swiss Army knife," Scully said of the receiver-running back-linebacker hybrid. "It's a good mix of size, speed and strength. Experience is the biggest thing. I've been coaching a lot of them since they were 5. A couple of them have been to Florida (for nationals) with the Merrillville Cardinals two years ago. We also have a couple coaches on the staff who have been there, which helps tremendously."
Five players scored touchdowns in the state win, a reflection of the team's overall talent. Caleb Christensen is a mainstay on both lines.
"We have a lot of interchangeable parts," Scully said. "It's like pick your poison. We have so many guys we can give the ball to. That's how I coach. I get everybody involved. I don't highlight one player. They don't know what they're going to be in high school. If they're blessed to go to college (to play), they don't know what position they're going to play. I get them all in, get them experience at all the different positions."
The team uses Ames Field for practices and Mason has also given them access to the weight room at the high school.
"I believe in strength training during the season to help prevent injuries," Scully said. "Coach Mason is really accommodating. I couldn't ask for better."
Michigan City will take on the Next Level Chargers from Chicago in Sunday's regional final back at Kiwanis. The winner there is off to Orlando from Dec. 7-14 for the national championships at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex.
While Pop Warner players do plenty of fund raising and the program receives some corporate sponsorship, the trip costs (travel, lodging and food) amount to roughly $1,200 per player. Anyone interested in helping defray the expenses with a contribution can contact Scully (219-561-4981; firstname.lastname@example.org) or Joshua Schultz (574-514-0864; Jschultz02@mcas.k12.in.us).
Pop Warner Regional Championship
AT KIWANIS FIELD, LA PORTE
Michigan City vs. Next Level (Chicago) Chargers, 2:30 p.m.