2017-08-04 / Sports Spotlight

Youth football set to kick off 20th season

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

For the past 20 years, Scarborough Youth Football has been teaching youth in kindergarten to middle school the sports of tackle and flag football. (Courtesy photo) For the past 20 years, Scarborough Youth Football has been teaching youth in kindergarten to middle school the sports of tackle and flag football. (Courtesy photo) The New England Patriots opened up training camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts last week, but 137 miles north in Scarborough, another training camp, for much younger players, is about to begin.

This month, Scarborough Youth Football, open to players from kindergarten to middle school, will begins its 20th season of teaching elementary and middle school students the sports of tackle and flag football.

The season for the seventh and eighth-grade players begins Aug. 7 while players in grades 2 to 6 begin Aug. 21.

Registration for the 2017 season is underway right now and although club leaders have seen a drop-off in participation over the years, they expect similar numbers as last year, which saw 135 tackle football players and 39 flag football participants.

The Scarborough Football Club, which is unaffiliated with the athletics program in Scarborough schools, started as a tackle-only league, but Peter Gambardella, the league’s coaching coordinator and player safety coach, said flag football – a version of football with similar rules but no tackling – was added to the offerings several years ago. Flag football is offered for students in kindergarten, first and second grade and begins right after Labor Day.

“It is a great introduction to the sport without the concerns from parents about contact,” Gambardella said.

“Kindergarten is really to young to start tackling. Having flag football available for those kids to emulate their (football) heroes and play the game everybody watches TV is a good call,” said club president Grant Delaware, who joined the board last year to replace a parent whose son was aging out and to “give back to a club that’s done a lot for our family.”

The seventh and eighth grade team plays in the Southern Maine Youth Football League against teams from Windham, Massabesic, South Portland, Sanford, Saco, Bonny Eagle and Portland and players in second through sixth grade compete in the Maine Sportsmanship League.

“The leagues we play in are suited well for our program,” Delaware said. Gambardella agreed saying the competition within the two leagues is “fairly matched.”

Gambardella, who also started on the board last year after years of coaching, said coaches are careful to ease players into tackle football once they old enough to begin playing that version.

“In second and third grade, we teach the fundamentals of what a tackle looks like, what it feels like and how it is done. This continues one stage to the next building to the high school level,” he said.

He said Scarborough Youth Football partners with USA Football, the governing body for amateur football in this country, not only for guidance in tackling technique, but also regarding concussion and hydration protocols, things that are being adopted by high schools and colleges as well. There was a time when such dictates came from the college level and trickled down, but now it is not uncommon for the protocols to be set at the youth level and work their way up.

“All this time what is tried and true with this board and previous boards is player safety is first and foremost,” Gambardella said.

Delaware is glad that in recent years, there has been a renewed focus into player safety at all levels of the sport.

“As a dad and a coach sometimes I get challenged by other parents about football and the safety concerns about the sport, but I was just thinking the other day, I am glad there is a heightened awareness about safety,” Delaware said.

Amy Moore, whose two sons, Andrew and Evan, joined Scarborough Youth Football last season, is also glad that safety is paramount.

“Every parent is concerned with the kids safety. Whether it is baseball, soccer, gymnastics or football, there are safety concerns with every sport,” Moore said. “I felt really comfortable joining a program where coaches are really educated about heads-up tackling.”

Tim Wright also appreciates the work coaches do to ensure the safety of the players. Wright’s sons Trey, 16 and Noah, 10 have been playing in the football program since elementary school.

“They describe their time in Scarborough Youth Football as fun and challenging, and that they both learned a lot about the game from their coaches,” he said of Trey, a sophomore and Noah, a Scarborough Middle School sixth-grader. “The Scarborough Youth Football coaches emphasize safety, particularly in tackling, and playing fairly. Both boys had Doug Weed as a head coach and recall him as being a favorite. Grant Delaware and Mike Schuler were also excellent coaches.”

The club is co-ed, but historically has not had a lot of female participants. When girls do participate, however, they make their presence felt. Delaware said years back during his first year of coaching, there was a third-grade girl who “was probably the toughest lineman in the league and two years ago there was a female wide receiver.

“She did really well and I think she fit in really well,” he said of that girl.

Delaware said every year the club has several players who are playing the sport for the very first time.

Moore also appreciates the effort the coaches and other players took to make sure her sons were welcomed.

“He was so excited to join,” Moore said of Andrew, an incoming seventh-grader who gave up gymnastics to give football a try. “He was a little nervous being new to the program. He acclimated so quickly. On the first day they took him right in like he was part of the program since day one.”

Coaches work hard to make sure players are playing the right position based on their size and skill set and work to get the very best out of each and every player.

“As a program, we’ve done a good job integrating kids and working hard to have playing time for every kid within their capacity and skill set,” Delaware said.

Wright sees this in his sons.

“While neither of my sons are the fastest or most athletic kids on the field, the Scarborough Youth Football coaches were great at getting their players to play to their potential. So many of the other players’ parents have talked to me about how much they appreciate the work the coaches do,” Wright said.

At this level, Gambardella said, it is crucial to stress that every position is important.

“Just because your team scored a touchdown and you didn’t touch the ball doesn’t mean you were not important to the play. It is important to get that across to kids,” he said.

Youth football is when many of the players learn to love the sport and many players make the transition from Scarborough Youth Football to the high school program. Wright’s son, Noah, dreams on taking his football career even further.

“Noah has told me that he wants to coach football when he grows up,” Wright said.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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