Jr. Wildcats is more than just football and cheerleading

By: Lauren Gibbs, The Placer Herald
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Whitney Junior Wildcats are learning more than how to tackle and cheer — they’re learning how to become better people. The youth football and cheer teams are centered around eight character traits, all centered around respect. Through the Character Program, coaches teach players and cheerleaders about respect, integrity, courage, self-discipline, commitment, responsibility, loyalty and unity. For eight weeks, Whitney Junior Wildcats learn what it means to portray each trait on and off the field. Gil Achanzar, president of Whitney Junior Wildcats, said the character traits have been a part of the program since its beginning, but the Character Program started last year. “We wanted to make sure character development was a big part of our program,” he said. “We believe in investing in the kids … in the long run, it’s who they become.” Last week’s trait was integrity. At the beginning of each week, coaches conduct quick lesson plans on the week’s trait and throughout the week, work with players to understand and demonstrate the trait. For Peewee coach Jim Teague, that means using cartoons and video games to get the point across. Teague said he tells his players that they want to be “the good guys.” If someone gets knocked down from the opposing team, help pick them back up, Teague said he tells his Peewees. Each lesson plan gives examples of ways to show the trait of the week. For last week’s trait of integrity, players learned that integrity is doing the right thing – not always the most popular thing – it’s how you act when no one is watching. Peewee cheerleader Rylea Gillis was recognized a few weeks ago for showing that week’s trait of respect. She said it taught her how to treat people on and off the field, like not taunting and to have good sportsmanship. Last year, Shelby Treseder, a Midgets cheerleader, was recognized for her self-discipline. “I learned that you keep pushing yourself and trying,” she said. Every Thursday night during the regular season, Whitney Park turns into a pep rally getting players ready for the weekend games, but also acknowledges players from each level who demonstrated the character trait of the week. Achanzar said by the end of the season, each Whitney Junior Wildcat will be recognized – that’s approximately 90 cheerleaders and 150 football players. The players are awarded with a certificate and bag, donated by the Character Program sponsor, Nationwide Insurance. Natalie Kachmar, a parent and agent with Nationwide Insurance, founded the program last year. She said it’s something that also mirrors what coaches teach players at the high school level as well. As a parent, Kachmar said the program acts as a reminder for parents too – a refresher course in eight traits. The program has also served as a vehicle to bring the teams together and teach life skills. “I’m so proud,” Kachmar said. “I see that it’s making a difference in our kids.” If you’re interesting in sponsorship opportunities for the Character Program, e-mail