Founded in 1991, the Willow Grove Bears Football Club provides children in the area with cheerleading and football opportunities.
Youth from ages 5 to 14 are eligible to participate in the program, which hosts its home games at .
The club, a member of the American Conference in the Keystone State Midget Football League, offers tackle football teams for children in five different weight classes, along with non-contact flag football for 5- and 6-year-olds. Cheerleaders perform at each game.
Coming off the heels of a successful 2010 season for the football club, which included an undefeated season and a championship appearance for the 105-pound squad, the Willow Grove Bears are gearing up for registration for the 2011 season, which begins next month.
During the 2010 season, the Bears had over 200 boys and 100 girls participating in the program, and according to Nancy Duff, president of the Willow Grove Bears, the organization's overwhelming popularity makes it a mainstay in the township.
Siblings are often involved in the club together, and parents also devote much of their time to the organization.
"It usually becomes a family thing," said Duff, who initially became involved with the Bears when her son began to play football for the club.
At the end of January, the Bears hosted their annual banquet, which featured guest speaker Chris Whitney, a Villanova University athlete and former player for the Bears.
"He comes back and gives back to the club," said Duff.
Upper Moreland High School football coach Adam Beach also made an appearance to speak with the players and their families.
At the banquet, "career" athletes who have played football or cheered for the Bears at every level receive their career apparel, and other players are honored for their achievements.
"All the teams are recognized at the banquets," Duff said.
Though this year's football season has ended, the competitive cheering squad's season is in full swing, according to director of cheerleading Heather Fagan. The competitive squad, which comprises 18 girls, has so far cheered in competitions at the Palestra, Central Bucks West and Archbishop Ryan High School.
The cheerleading team's next competitive event, "Bandit Battle," will take place Feb. 19 at Sun Valley High School in Aston.
Most of the girls who cheer for the Willow Grove Bears range in age from 9 to 14. Next year, Fagan hopes to have younger girls involved with a squad where they can cheer competitively.
"We'd like to try and build our own competitive squad," Fagan said.
As a nonprofit organization, the Bears rely heavily on fundraising from events such as Yankee Candle and "spirit cup" sales.
"We also get a lot of local sponsorship," Duff said, especially for the Bears' first golf outing, which took place last September.
These events help defray costs for families in the Bears' organization.
"[Fundraising] also helps provide opportunities for the kids who can't afford football or cheerleading," Duff said
Additionally, money the club raises helps to offset some of the competition fees cheerleaders must pay.
"It does get costly," Fagan said.
Besides funding, the all-volunteer organization needs interested people to help out with the day-to-day operations of the club.
"We are always looking for volunteers," Duff said.
Often, high school students and college athletes who participated in the Willow Grove Bears as cheerleaders or football players return to volunteer with youngsters.
"They still make time to come out to our home field during the games to talk to and encourage the kids," Duff said.
Duff and Fagan said the club hopes to foster this lifelong connection in all its participants.
"We encourage the kids to come back and help," Fagan said. "We'll take whatever time they want to give us."
Both Fagan and Duff agreed that children participating in the Willow Grove Bears learn more than just the techniques of their sport, including the importance of volunteerism, sportsmanship, trust and working with others.
Above all, children learn that success comes with time and practice, since it takes a great deal of hard work to become good at something new like a sport, Fagan said.
"It's a commitment, football and cheerleading," she added.
The Willow Grove Bears organization holds monthly meetings every third Thursday at the Upper Moreland Township Building, and all club members are welcome to attend.
For information about the Bears, visit www.wgbears.com.