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Lathrop Lions kick off debut season
Lathrop Lions coach Marcell Dunn (back to camera) huddles with the Junior Midget and Midget teams during Wednesdays conditioning practice at Mossdale Elementary School in Lathrop. The Lions are a first-year youth football program.

LATHROP – The Lathrop Lions youth football program hasn’t taken long to set itself apart from the area’s other teams.

The Lions will kick off their inaugural season on Aug. 25 with a Jamboree at Lathrop High against four others from the Nor Cal Alliance League, which consists of 70 teams from the Bay Area and greater Sacramento area.

Lathrop’s only geographical rival in the Nor Cal Alliance League will be Stockton’s West Coast Stockton 49ers.

The Lions are now the second youth football program in Lathrop, joining with the Jr. Spartans of the Delta Youth Football League. The Lions are also the only church-based organization in the area, and operate without boundary issues because there are no direct competitors in the area.

“We are part of (American Youth Football),” said Riley Stevens, Lathrop Lions president and defensive coordinator for the Pee-wee squad. “We have a variety of kids from Weston Ranch, Lathrop, Manteca, French Camp and Ripon. There are no boundary issues, so the kids can come from Modesto if they want to.

“A lot of the other teams in the area have multiple teams, so there are boundaries they can’t cross. But here we take all comers. We want our kids to see what’s outside this area.”

The Lions are offering six different divisions of football, ranging from age 5 to 15. There is a maximum of 30 players allowed per team, and the program currently has room for about 10-12 more players per level. The Lions will be accepting registration through Aug. 10 for the football program and cheerleading as well.

“We have approximately 75-80 players, and we still have openings,” Stevens explained. “We’re kind of short on 5-year olds, so that’s our target group.”

The Lions will offer a Tiny Mite division (5-7), Cadets (8-10), Junior Pee Wee (10-11), Pee Wee (11-12), Junior Midgets (12-13) and Midgets (15-and-under). The cost to register for football is $185 and $315 for cheer.

Players and cheerleaders interested in joining may visit the website for more information: They can also show up to the practices at Mossdale Elementary School Monday through Friday from 6 to 8 p.m.

There are perks that come with joining this new program.

Founded by Dr. Willie Anderson and his Image Changers Church, the Lions are currently constructing a sports training facility they will call the “Lion’s Den.” It will be membership-based, open to members of the church as well as players from the Lions’ football program. The full-training facility will also offer boxing and speed and agility training.

“This is all part of our non-profit Community of Hope Coalition,” said Dr. Anderson, a native of Oakland and the Pastor at Image Changers Church. “The whole objective of football and cheer is to bridge a program that develops mentoring opportunities as we consider the significance of education and being community citizens that leverage football and cheer as an opportunity for us to develop champions for life. That’s the intent and I’m excited about the potential we have.

“We want to make these kids successful in life cultures that take them beyond football and cheer with a well-rounded, holistic approach. We want to make winners in life, at home and in the community.”

Dr. Anderson pitched the idea of creating a competitive, religion-based youth football program to Stevens, a member of Image Changers Church,  last December.

Seven months later, this is the result.

“(Stevens) took the torch and ran with it,” Dr. Anderson explained. “It started with a discussion and then it began to mushroom, and that’s what faith is. This is proof of what can be done when you put your attention and energy in your community if people are willing to make a difference.”

The Lions will be in the same division with the likes of the Fairfield Falcons, Bay Area Spartans, Richmond Eagles, Sacramento 49ers, Santa Cruz Mountain Cougars, Rosemont Warriors and the West Coast Stockton 49ers.