April 5, 2013
Dozens of people filled the bleachers at Albemarle High School's football stadium Sunday to honor a man who left his heart on the field.
Gene Ware, founder of Central Virginia's Pop Warner football league, passed away Wednesday after ongoing effects of a stroke.
"Gene was a great man. I didn't know anyone who had as much passion for football as he did," said Lee Parkhill, who played in the league for four years. "The program really changed my life."
Since it was founded in 2005, thousands of 8-to-13 year olds have participated in the program. Ware was always looking for his next recruit.
"A 9-year-old kid would walk in and he'd stop the parents, 'Hey you think about playing football?' That's the type of guy he was. He just really loved this," said Gary Parkhill, the organization's past president.
Friends and family say it was Ware's mission to share his love of the game with kids in the community.
"That was his dream, that was his passion, that's what he wanted to do," said son Brandon Ware. "Nothing stood in his way."
The memorial service may have served as a way to remember the man who started it all, but members of the league are determined to continue the tradition for years to come.
"It's something that's going to be life-long that we'll continue to carry on, not just for Gene and his family, but for the young people he's impacted in Pop Warner," said Tony Payne, a coach and a member of the board of directors.
Pop Warner is a national program that provides youth football and cheerleading/dance programs with a focus on athletics and academics. Leagues span 42 states and several countries.