A long goodbye
Youth football officer calls it quits, for real

By Ed Richards
Daily Press

Published December 12, 2001

Wayne Stokes means it this time. After 19 years, he has retired as president of the Peninsula Youth Football Association. Gone to Happyville, he said.

Stokes said his goodbyes at the end-of-season meeting Dec. 2, where he presided over the election of new officers. Danny Spruill, the 2001 league president for York-Seaford, was elected Stokes' successor.

Rumors of Stokes retiring have popped up almost annually the past five years. In 1998, he announced his retirement at a business meeting and went home a free man. Not for long. The telephone started ringing at his home after the meeting. Seven calls later, he was unretired.

"Since I'd given them such short notice that I was retiring, I didn't think it was fair. So I came back," Stokes said.

Despite a health problem, he also returned for 1999 and 2000. But at the end of the 2000 season, he made it absolutely clear 2001 would be his last.

"I'd been seriously thinking about retiring for five years because of health reasons," Stokes said. "I won't go into the details but I will tell you I have a chronic, not imminently terminal, illness that I am fighting, and I'm not gaining ground. I'll just put it this way. I tire easily and I'm not any longer able to perform at the level I prefer to perform."

Stokes, 55, began his stint with the association in 1981 as a public address announcer. He then spent one year as a vice president and the past 19 as top administrator. During his tenure, the group underwent two name changes - from the York Youth Football League, to the York Youth Football Association to the Peninsula Youth Football Association.

Under Stokes, the association expanded from six leagues and 22 teams to 12 leagues and 44 teams. Counting cheerleaders, the PYFA serves more than 3,000 kids - making it the Peninsula's largest youth football organization.

A gifted public address announcer, Stokes never envisioned spending 21 years around youth football. He blames it on his wife, Linda, and oldest daughter, Melanie.

"It all started out in 1981," Stokes said. "My wife got involved with the Grafton Red Raiders because our oldest daughter was involved in cheerleading. My wife told me they were short of announcers for the first game of the season and she kept worrying me and worrying me about it. So we finally struck a deal. I told her I would announce one game, one time only, if she'd get off my back."

That one time turned into a long time. Stokes announced games for the 1981 season, became vice president of the Red Raiders in 1982, and then began his long presidential run in 1983.

"It's been for a worthy cause or I wouldn't have stayed in it all these years," said Stokes, a 1965 Newport News High graduate.

Stokes, a commercial sales representative for Sears for more than 20 years, was a driving force behind the PYFA's Academic All-Stars program, said Dennis Mickelson, a board member from Fort Eustis. At the association's recent Super Bowl, more than 800 children were rewarded for their academic work.

"Our main priority has been the education of our children and teaching them life's lessons, things like responsibility and respect for other," Stokes said.

Stokes also lobbied, successfully, for a mandatory playing rule.

"He made sure the kids were treated fairly," said Kathy LaCross, a co-commissioner with J.R. Johnson this past year.

Spruill said if a tough decision had to be made, Stokes always ruled in favor of the kids. "And 99.9 percent of the time, it was a good decision."

Johnson praised Stokes for being a man of his word and a good friend.

"We didn't always see eye-to-eye but whether we agreed or no, he respected my opinion," Johnson said.

In honor of Stokes, this year's Super Bowl was called the "R. Wayne Stokes Super Bowl." Between championship games, the PYFA presented him a plaque and Washington Redskins jacket. He also has been awarded the title of president emeritus, an honorary advising position for life.

Letting go wasn't easy.

"I was truly blessed with a number of excellent people around me. No one person can do all this by themselves," he said.

Ed Richards can be reached at 247-4645 or by e-mail at erichards@dailypress.co

Copyright 2001, Daily Press