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Cowboys start practicing
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Whistles chirped, coaches shouted instructions and players acquiesced on Friday at Mae Hensley Jr. High School.

Ceres Cowboys Youth Football & Cheerleading President Madeline Patterson watched from a shaded area near the entrance gate.

"Our goal is to make sure the kids get involved in something," she said. "We're keeping them off the streets."

About 180 boys and girls aged 7 to 14 will suit up for Ceres this year, including 130 football players and 50 cheerleaders.

The Cowboys began conditioning drills last month in preparation for the 2007 season.

Players practiced in shoulder pads and helmets for the first time last week. They worked on offensive and defensive plays.

Cheerleaders practiced in T-shirts and shorts. They perfected routines.

Each session lasted two hours (6-8 p.m.).

Jim Patterson (varsity), Erik Payne (junior varsity), Reg Evans (novice) and Travis Borchardt (junior novice) will handle head football coach duties.

Katherine Mlady (varsity), Hortensia Rott (junior varsity), Amber Hernandez (novice) and Kari Moncibaiz (junior novice) run the cheer program.

The Pattersons have been affiliated with the non-profit organization for 15 years. Both of their sons, James and Michael, played for the Cowboys. Daughter Stephanie was a cheerleader at every level.

James earned a football scholarship to University of Mary in North Dakota, where he'll be a sophomore.

Michael will be a sophomore at Central Catholic High School.

Stephanie will be a freshman at San Jose State University.

"We believe in the program," said Madeline, who took over as president last season. "Our kids came through here."

As for the future of the Cowboys football and cheer program, Madeline sees nothing but good times ahead.

Previously named Chargers, Ceres changed its mascot when it joined the Delta Youth Football League in 1976.

"The Cowboys have been around for a long time," Madeline said. "We're not going to allow the program to fail. This is our family. The exciting part is giving back to the community."

Ceres will play a 10-game season, beginning on Aug. 25. The Cowboys and South Stockton Vikings will face off at Ceres High School.

"I think we're going to have a great year," Madeline said. "Everyone's excited."