Football season is right around the corner. All the local teams have high hopes. Several, including Conway High School, have new coaches.

In 1984, Buzz Bolding was the new Wampus Cat coach and brought the Steakout to Conway. I was a sophomore that year and participated in the very first one. 

Now in its 35th year, it has become a great fundraiser that gives fans their first look at the teams from middle school to high school.

In the early years, UCA would scrimmage too. Of course, back then, when Conway was much smaller, there was only one junior high team and only one middle school.

These days, the event begins around lunchtime with volleyball at Buzz Bolding Arena, followed by football at John McConnell Stadium.

This year’s festivities are on Friday, August 17. It is now called "Meet the Cats.”  And you’ll get to meet the newest, youngest Wampus Kittens.

In a really fun part of the evening, the 7th graders from each of the district’s four middle schools will be introduced. As their name is called, they run through a tunnel of high school players, getting high-fives along the way. 

After three years of playing in the Conway Noon Optimist Youth Football League, my son will get to participate in the run-through.

About this time three years ago, he was a 4th grader interested in playing peewee football.

A decade ago, I would have not thought twice about letting him play. In fact, I probably would have strongly encouraged it. 

But it is a different world today, having to worry about concussions and CTE in football players.

So, I called a friend whose son had just finished his three years in the local youth program to ask some questions.

There are never any guarantees in life, but he helped put my mind a little more at ease.

This summer, my son had not talked much about football, so I was wondering if he was really going to be into it or not. But, we had stayed busy playing baseball and basketball. 

About a week before his middle school practices began in late July, he started to get excited. After the first day of practice, he was really excited.

I had warned him that during that first week to expect a lot of running, as the coaches needed to see who was in shape.

Luckily for him, he had not spent all summer lying on his bed playing Fortnite.

A few weeks into practice now, I’m happy to say that his time playing in the Optimist league prepared him pretty well for middle school football. 

Optimist football is cranking up again. It is full-pad football for kids in grades 3-6.  Returning player registration is August 11. New players sign up the following week, August 18.

Both will be held at Curtis Walker Park, home of Peyton Hillis Field where their games are played.