SPARTA, NJ - Seventeen teams of Spartan Youth football players and eight cheerleading squads took over Ungerman Field for the annual Milk Bowl on Sunday. Games started at 10 a.m. and went until it was nearly dark.
There are 10 flag football teams with nearly 90 boys ranging in age from 5-years-old through second grade. There are also approximately 60 girls on the four flag cheer squads. New this year is the Rumble division; tackle football for "flag" age boys. Most of the games were intramural. Newton, Kittitiny and Vernon squads also participated at the Rumble, Pony and Super levels. For most teams, this is their last regular season game.
The annual Milk Bowl is an event based on tradition. Every year since 1952, the boys and girls of the Sparta Spartan Youth Football organization and their families come together for a day of games, activities and generosity. The president of Sparta Spartans Youth Football Program, Josh Hertzberg, explained, "Although our program was incorporated in 1957, it actually dates back to before 1952," when Sparta played Newton. Councilwoman Christine Quinn presented the Newton coaches a framed copy of a newspaper article covering the early game, as "a welcome back present." The organization describes teh Milk Bowl as a "symbol of dedication, humility and community commitment, shared by the players and cheerleaders of the Sparta Spartans Youth Football.".
The Milk Bowl is more than just games. There were activities for children not participating on the field. "Fifteen students from Sparta High School volunteered their time to help with face painting and a craft table," according to event coordinator Kathleen Leo. Cub Scout Pack 82 had a football toss booth as well. For adults there was the Tricky Tray, bake sale, 50/50 raffles, vendors and the popular Month of Meals Raffle, where the lucky winner got 30 restaurant gift cards.
The theme of the entire day was "Kids Helping Kids" said Leo, who recalls cheering at the Milk Bowl as a youngster.
"Although this event is a celebration ending a great regular season of football and cheerleading, it is really much more than that. It's our program's introduction to these young boys and girls to giving back to the community," said Hertzberg addressing the crowd, also recalling his participation as a player, "twenty something years ago."
While everyone was on hand to enjoy the games and activities, the tradition behind the Milk Bowl has been to raise money to support Spartan residents in need. Typically the proceeds from the day's events went to one family. This year, however, there were several that needed help so the Milk Bowl Community Outreach fund was established to distribute the money raised throughout the day to those families.
Children were encouraged to do their part. Many of the cheerleaders made the popular Rainbow Loom bracelets and sold them at the Milk Bowl. Each participant was asked to sell $10 worth of raffle tickets.
Standing on the sideline waiting to watcfh her daughter, a second generation Milk Bowl cheer leader, Leo was "happy to be a part of the tradition."