LAKEWOOD RANCH — Tony Squitieri’s first profession has always been football.
The East County resident grew up playing high school and college football, before transitioning to arena football.
Now, the former professional quarterback is returning to the gridiron for his 18th season as a Pop Warner football coach. But, this season, Squitieri’s son, Anthony, and the rest of his Junior Midget squad, will have a new look and a new place to call home.
On Aug. 1, the Sarasota Lightning, a new Pop Warner football league, officially will take the field for the first time at The Out-of-Door Academy.
Formerly the Suncoast Bucs, an organization that had struggled to find a home over the past five years, the Sarasota Lightning was formed as a way to promote youth football in northern Sarasota County.
“It’s about youth sports, reaching out to the high school and building a community,” Squitieri says. “The kids look up to (the high school) players, so we’re trying to integrate the community in that way. It’s about the whole experience.”
Through a partnership with The Out-of-Door Academy, the Sarasota Lightning will hold all of its practices and home games at ODA.
“Field location is everything,” says Squitieri, the league’s president. “The Suncoast Bucs organization was going through its ups and downs, and we wanted to help them out. ODA stepped up to the plate, and that’s really what started it all.”
The Sarasota Lightning is open to all players and cheerleaders ages 5 to 15. Players will be divided into six age divisions, ranging from Tiny Mite to Midget.
Players will play in the Peace River Conference, which stretches across Southwest Florida from Manatee County to Naples. Games will be held on Saturdays.
Registration is now available online. Players also can register in person from 6 to 8:30 p.m. May 29, at RTI Insurance Services, 6371 Business Blvd., Sarasota.
Registration is $210, which will go toward the purchase of new equipment and uniforms. An additional $85 is required for the purchase of a uniform package, which includes a jersey, a weigh-in shirt and shorts players get to keep following the season.
“It’s all about youth sports,” Squitieri says. “We’re trying to find good families to build the organization through the community. We want them to reach out, take part and make it a memorable experience for the kids.
“We want to build that brand and spirit, so that kids can take pride in where they are going,” Squitieri says. “Teaching football is great, but, as a coach, mentally seeing them grow is fun to watch and be a part of.”
For more information or to register, visit sarasotalightning.com or contact Mike Gagg at [email protected].
For cheerleading information, contact Tabitha Brown at 323-5862 or [email protected] or A.J. Richter at 323-9290 or [email protected].
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].