It all began when the owner of a new factory in Northeast Philadelphia enlisted the aid of a young friend, Joseph J. Tomlin, to solve a recurring problem. The factory's huge ground-to-floor windows were constantly being shattered - 100 broken windows in just one month - by teenagers hurling stones from a nearby vacant lot.
Joe Tomlin, an enthusiastic athlete who had excelled in sports in high school and college, had a possible answer. Since the other factories in the area were also being plagued by the young vandals, he suggested that the building owners get together to fund an athletic program for the kids. In those days, the city did not have organized recreation programs to keep idle kids occupied and out of trouble.
The owners agreed, and asked Tomlin to set up a program. Commuting from his job as a stockbroker in New York City, he returned to his home in Philadelphia each weekend. Fall was approaching, so football seemed a logical choice to begin the new project. He set up a schedule for a four-team Junior Football Conference in time for the 1929 season.
Take a look back in time to see which events turned the Junior Football Conference into today’s largest and oldest youth football and cheerleading organization, known today as Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc.
1929 : Joseph J. Tomlin starts the Northeast Boys’ Club, and in October 1929, the first games of a new youth football league – the Junior Football Conference are played. The conference is comprised of four teams.
1933 : The Junior Football Conference expands to 16 teams. Glenn Scobie “Pop” Warner, already a legend among active college football coaches, comes to Philadelphia to become the head football coach of the Temple University Owls.
1934 : April 19 – the weather is unseasonably cold, with very high winds accompanied by torrential rains mixed with sleet at times. Of the one dozen area college coaches scheduled to lecture at this evening’s clinic, coach after coach calls stating that they will not appear. No call is received from Warner – it is assumed that he will not show. Since there is no way to contact the expected 800 attendees, a substitute program is put together. Well into the impromptu program agenda, the clinicians are interrupted by a commotion in the back of the hall. Pop Warner arrives and when the cheers finally quiet down, he proceeds to deliver a two-hour presentation followed by an hour of questions and answers. At the end of the evening, Joe Tomlin asks Warner for his permission to rename the Junior Football Conference in his honor. Warner agrees and thus is born the Pop Warner Conference.
1937 : The first teams similar to today’s “Midgets” are organized.
1938 : The Pop Warner Conference fields 157 teams in Philadelphia and the immediate Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs. Pop Warner retires from coaching and moves back to Palo Alto, California. Up until the time of his death in 1954, he remains interested in the Pop Warner Conference as a board member and each Christmas he sends a substantial check to help fund the program.
1940 : Because of World War II, the football program drops to 114 teams.
1946 : With the end of World War II, Tomlin begins to promote his youth football initiatives on a national level instead of justPhiladelphia.
1947 : The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce offers Tomlin a position that enables him to promote youth football on a national basis. From its wartime low of 42 teams, Pop Warner is brought back up to 100 in 1947. A longtime supporter of the Pop Warner Conference andPhiladelphia restaurateur, Frank Palumbo sits one evening with Tomlin and talks of the difficulties in gaining national exposure. Palumbo phones Tomlin a few days later with an answer. On December 27, at South Philadelphia High School Field, a Philadelphia midget team meets one from New York in the first-ever “kiddie” bowl game. Called the Santa Claus Bowl, and sponsored by the Philadelphia Daily News, it is played in 6 inches of snow before 2,000 spectators. The Philadelphia team called Palumbo’s Clickets, is named after the Market Streetsupper club. The New York team, sponsored by Frank Sinatra is known as Sinatra’s Cyclones. The Clickets win the game 6-0 and major national attention is drawn to Philadelphia’s Pop Warner Conference for the first time.
1948 : The second Santa Claus Bowl is played in Philadelphia, beginning a decade-long tradition of having a Philadelphia Pop Warner Conference team play one from a distant community either home or away. As a result, youth football begins to become more and more popular in communities. The Philadelphia Conference reaches a post WWII height of 110 teams.
1954 : Glenn S. “Pop” Warner dies at age 84 in Palo Alto, CA after an illness.
1955 : The American Football Coaches Association announces Joe Tomlin as its 1955 recipient of the prestigious Amos Alonzo Stagg Award – the only time in its history the college coaches have presented this award to one outside of their own profession. Sports Illustrated devotes its “Pat on the Back” column to him and later that year, the Pop Warner Conference plays its last games in the older/heavier divisions. The program will now be for boys 16 and under, with emphasis beginning at 13 and under.
1957 : The Pop Warner Conference publishes its first rulebook to guide the nearly 1000 teams from coast to coast. The first appearance of the title “National Pop Warner Conference” is seen on a book sponsored by the Insurance Workers of America.
1958 : A corporate charter for Pop Warner Little Scholars is sought from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The name is recommended by the founding Chairman of the Board, Samuel H. Daroff who feels it is more descriptive of the entire Pop Warner picture which is based on more than just kids playing football on a Sunday afternoon. All awards given out up until this time have been on the basis of academic, rather than on-field accomplishments and the organization has a tradition of educational promotion
1959 : Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas #4 issues a nonprofit corporate charter to Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. Formal national activities may now get underway. A flash flood destroys many of the records of the past decade, including most of the contact names and addresses Joe Tomlin has gathered of fledgling midget football teams and leagues. Fortunately, the Pop Warner historical record is saved as are irreplaceable legal, financial, and photographic records.
Walt Disney Studios announces it will film a two-hour show on Pop Warner Football based upon what it has seen of the Pop Warner operation in the Los Angeles area (where there are 100 teams). The film stars Alan Hale (later known for his role as the “Skipper” from Gilligan’sIsland) and is entitled “Moochie of Pop Warner Football”. This leads to the creation of the Disneyland Bowl in Anaheim, California.
1960 : PWLS writes and establishes the first set of rules that 1000 teams will play under. Ages and weights are the major concerns.
1961 : The first annual National Awards Program is held in the spring in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The dinner honors one person that has helped influence the program and presents them with the Pop Warner Gold Football. The award is a replica of the one named for Pop Warner, given to the most outstanding football player on the West Coast by the PALO Club.
1965 : The Pop Warner Little Scholars program has now increased to 2,000 teams nationally.
1966 : Final and favorable action by the United States Patent Office awards exclusive ownership of the name “POP WARNER” to Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. for use as a trademark and service mark.
1972 : The country is divided into a series of regions, each to have its own winter regional rules meeting.
1973 : Girls participate in the Pop Warner program for the first time.
1977 : Pop Warner reaches 6,000 teams and leagues are informed that there will be changes to the rules as the program shifts. Innovations include: guaranteed playing time and coaching certification.
1979 : A gala event is planned for The Marriott in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of Pop Warner. CBS Sports Commentator and former Philadelphia Eagle, Irv Cross chairs the event and the Charter Induction of the Pop Warner Hall of Fame including such people as Vince Lombardi, “Red” Grange, Otto Graham, Joe Tomlin, and others.
1983 : The Pop Warner National Office announces that a flag football program has been created as a developmental league.
1984 : Pop Warner and the Russell Athletic Corp. complete a deal that will bring the Pop Warner National Championships to Alexander City, Alabama for the Russell Athletic Bowl. Russell houses all the participants and furnishes them with uniforms complete with Pop Warner patches.
1985 : The first set of official Pop Warner Cheerleading rules are published.
1988 : Founder of Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc., Joseph J. Tomlin dies at age 87. Pop Warner celebrates 60 years in existence and the first National Cheerleading Championships are held on December 9, 1988 at Lynwood Park Gymnasium in DeKalb County, Georgia where 35 teams compete. The Chestnut League in Japan is formed and the Japanese are introduced to American Football through the Pop Warner Little Scholars program. The Pop Warner National Championship games receive prominent television coverage with highlights of the Midget Championship Game being aired on the children’s television cable channel, Nickelodeon.
1995 : The Pop Warner Super Bowl (as it is now known) moves to its new home in Lake Buena Vista, Florida to the Walt Disney World Resort. The National Cheerleading Championships are held at Disney’s MGM Studios.
1997 : Russia expresses interest in American Football and asks Pop Warner for assistance. Talks begin about bringing American Football and Cheerleading to another international spot. The Moscow Patriots become the first Pop Warner association in Russia.
1999 : A Midget Football Team from Jacksonville, Florida travels overseas to participate in Pop Warner’s first-ever international competition, a goodwill exchange against teams in Russia. Pop Warner’s Super Bowl and National Cheer & Dance Championships draws record numbers of over 11,000 football players, cheerleaders, dancers, parents, coaches and friends into Orlando, Florida. International Superstar, Paula Abdul presents the first-ever Pop Warner “Spirit of Sport” Award that goes to the spirit squad that demonstrates best overall sportsmanship.
2003 : 11-year old Jasmine Plummer from the Harvey Colts becomes the first-ever female quarterback to lead her team to the Pop Warner Super Bowl. After losing their opening round game, the Colts bounced back by winning the consolation game thanks in part to Plummer's opening touchdown of the game. Five years later, her story would be told nationally in the film "The Longshots."
2004 : Pop Warner celebrates its 75th Year Anniversary.
2006 : The 2006 Pop Warner Super Bowl marked the 50th anniversary national football championship.
2007 : The Cheer & Dance program hit another milestone by holding its 20th annual National Cheerleading Championship at the Milk House at DisneyWorld.
2009 : Today, over 425,000 kids participate in the football, cheerleading, and dance programs that Pop Warner has to offer. Annually, over 4,500 scholar-athletes are recognized as the Academic All-Americans and more than $500,000.00 in scholarships has been awarded through the Scholarship program to deserving student-athletes. Furthermore, record numbers of people show up each year for the annual Pop Warner Super Bowl Week and National Cheer & Dance Championships held at Disney.