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Watchung Hills Pop Warner

Watchung Hills Pop Warner

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Nov, 2017

Watchung Hills Pop Warner Challenger Division of Warren Wins 2017 Disability Advocates Award

SOMERVILLE, NJ  - The Watchung Hills Pop Warner Challenger Division of Warren was selected in the organization category as winners of the 2017 Disability Advocates Awards, presented by the Somerset County Office on Aging and Disabilities. Arthur (Art) Raynes of Basking Ridge was selected in the individual category. Citations were presented by Freeholder Director Peter S. Palmer at the Oct. 24 freeholders meeting.

The Disability Advocates Awards acknowledge individuals, organizations and/or businesses that go above and beyond to ensure that people with disabilities in Somerset County are included fully in the life of the community, and countywide call for nominations brought an enthusiastic response this year. In the end, the review committee decided to choose one winner in the individual and one in the organization category, according to a release from the Somerset County Office on Aging and Disabilities. 

The Watchung Hills Pop Warner Challenger Division was chosen, they said, for its outstanding commitment in responding to the needs of individuals with disabilities in the community.

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The Watchung Hills Challenger Division was started three years ago by Andy Marion. This flag football team is open to all county youth with disabilities, ages 5 to 15. It has grown from eight participants during the first year to more than 28 this year.  Children who participate represent the entire spectrum of disabilities, from those who need one-on-one attention to those who are highly independent.

Two-hour practices are held each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Warren, which allow players to interact with each other and just have a good time. The coaches are very attentive to each child and make each player feel important and accepted as a member of the team. 

Sunday games allow each child to run with the ball, on a shortened field, while the other team tries to get their flags. When all players on one side of the ball have run, the sides are switched and the other team runs with the ball. The Challenger team normally plays midday to maximize their exposure to the rest of the Pop Warner teams. As the Challengers run onto the field they are cheered on by cheerleaders and the other Pop Warner football players.

Head Coach Marion and the other coaches who make this free program work are described by one parent as “the most patient, energetic, upbeat, understanding, positive role models.” The coaches and teenage volunteers help to push the Challengers to do their individual best.



Last year, with the help of the Watchung Hills Pop Warner organization, this young team had an opportunity to show their personal best when they went to Disney World to play at the Wide World of Sports Stadium against other Challenger teams.  This was remarkable, because the team was one of just three Challenger teams from across the country that participated.

Raynes was nominated for his outstanding service and significant impact in meeting the needs of Somerset County citizens with disabilities. He is the founder of the Saturdays in Motion program, which is held at the Somerset Hills YMCA in Basking Ridge.  The program is the longest running (25-plus years), non-public, free program for children on the autism spectrum in the country. As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, Raynes saw a need for fun and engaging activities that would include the entire family. 

While the initial audience for the program was children on the autism spectrum, over the years it has grown to include children of varying needs and developmental disabilities.  A unique feature of the program is that not only does it include the child with the disability but also their siblings, who often may participate or volunteer. The program provides caregivers with a respite while their child enjoys unstructured playtime in a safe environment.

Two Saturdays a month families spend an hour playing in the YMCA gym and an hour in the pool. When each child enters the gym, he carefully handpicks each volunteer and matches them up with the child. With his guidance, volunteers learn about working with children with disabilities, leadership skills and responsibility.

In addition to organizing the program and training volunteers over the past 25-plus years, Raynes has reached out to local government, celebrities and other resources in the community to enhance Saturdays in Motion for the benefit of the children and their families. For example, members of the Rutgers University football team have come out for a number of years to engage with the program’s participants, their families and volunteers.

The success of this Saturdays in Motion program has been recognized by other YMCAs around the country, who often reach out to Mr. Raynes for advice on starting their own program. However, the families that nominated him state that the success is due to Mr. Raynes who has dedicated himself to the program, has set up clear expectations for the volunteers and who knows each one of the hundreds of participants and volunteers by name.

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Watchung Hills Pop Warner

Watchung Hills Pop Warner, 101 Old Stirling Road
Warren, New Jersey 07059
Email: [email protected]

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