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Friday Night Lights: The Future

Lil' Ponies football has been going strong for a decade, and it's feeding the Havre High program


September 20, 2013

Daniel Horton

Jeremiah Hughes, middle, plays defense during a Lil' Ponies football practice Wednesday night in Havre. The Lil' Pony program offers football for fourth, fifth and sixth-graders in Havre.

There are not a lot of towns or cities in Montana that offer full contact, tackle football below the middle school age level. But the city of Havre is not one of those without, as Havre is fortunate enough to have the Lil’ Ponies football program for the last 10 years.

The Lil’ Ponies got started by the likes of Phil Stokes and Scott Filius, and it has been going strong ever since.

And Havre’s fourth, fifth, and sixth graders have the opportunity to play just like their Havre High idols. It is fun to watch your favorite players, but it is even more fun to play like them. And with 78 total kids registered to play football for the Lil’ Ponies this season, there are plenty of big-time moves and styles being emulated on the field at the Havre Middle School.

Marc Ramirez, age 11, is in his second season with the Lil’ Ponies and is a running back and safety for the sixth-grade squad.

“I like it,” Ramirez said. “I like that I get to play football and it is fun. And I like that when I play in high school I will already know how to play. And my favorite player is Troy Polamalu for the Steelers. He is a safety and I am a safety, so I look at him and record all of his games. I like that he is like a Tasmanian Devil and plays fast and hits people.”

Jeramiah Hughes is also a 12-year-old sixth grader that loves having the opportunity to fly around and hit people. Hughes plays offensive and defensive line.

“The best part about football is sacking the quarterback and hitting people,” Hughes said. “But I take it easy on my teammates because when we scrimmage I don’t want to hurt my own teammates. And our team has a goal not to lose a game this year because we lost a couple games last year.”

The sixth graders may be playing like their favorite players, but the younger, fourth-grade players are still learning the basics. The fifth and sixth graders are very competitive, but the fourth-graders are focused on fun and the fundamentals.

“We want to teach these guys the fundamentals and give them a good foundation,” Shane Reno said in his fourth year of helping out the program. “As well as let them have fun. But as they go from fourth, to fifth, and then to sixth, the sixt- graders are playing in a league that is very, very competitive. But the fourth grade level is more about getting them excited about football. But with all grades, hopefully we can just pass on a group of kids to the middle school and high school that are sound football players.”

But as great as the program is, the growing success of the Lil’ Ponies has caused a couple of logistical issues.

This year, Reno unfortunately had to cut the registration numbers off at 78. That meant 10 would be players were left out, something you never want to happen at this level. But with the lack of usable equipment, and with some kids using 10-year-old equipment on the verge of being outdated, there just isn’t enough to support any more players at this time. Right now, the cost per player is just over $70 dollars, and in an attempt to keep the cost down, as well as update some equipment, the Lil’ Ponies will also be doing some fundraising this year.

Hi-Line Audio/Video has donated a 42 inch television, Lucky 7 Motorsports has donated an iPad, and Beya Salon has donated a beauty package, all to be raffled off. Tickets can be purchased from any of the three Havre business, or from a Lil’ Pony. The Lil’ Ponies also have an account set up at the ADMCHS Grain Elevator where farmers can donate grain to the worthy cause.

“We need to upgrade the 10-year-old equipment,” Reno said. “And the helmets have a lifespan. Some of these kids are using this older gear that we need to upgrade. I have been able to buy five or six new helmets every year, but that isn’t going to carry us through the point where we find ourselves needing to replace 30 helmets. We are finally at the point where we need to fundraise so that the cost doesn’t get outrageous for the parents.”

Meanwhile, the Lil’ Pony 2013 season is in full swing. Local fans can still catch some youngsters on the gridiron.

The fifth and sixth graders don’t have any more home games, but the fourth graders will be playing at home on Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. and Sept. 28 at 10 a.m. The Sept. 28 games will be a jamboree with several teams in attendance. Some teams that the Lil’ Ponies face during the season include Chinook, Shelby, Choteau, Fort Benton, Conrad and Fairfield, while the older teams also play in a Great Falls league and face Lewistown.

And the program has been very successful over the years. And if things continue to go as planned, the Lil’ Ponies will continue to be a feeder program for Havre Middle School, and eventually the Havre High School program, and for possibly beyond.

“If you look at the freshman kids at the high school,” Reno said. “They have some extremely talented kids, and those guys came up through this program. But I think soon we will really start to see the benefit because I think that freshmen group was where this really took hold. My hope is that we just pass something on to Jason Christenson and those guys. We are getting kids that are excited about lifting weights and staying in shape, and we have some strong and athletic kids already.”


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