It can't exactly be called divine intervention that got Howard County's newest youth football program up and running, though the Warriors did get financial and moral support from Columbia Community Church.
"Churches explore all ways to reach out to youth," said the pastor, the Rev. Reginald Elliott. "The impact we're trying to have is to provide a wholesome activity for young people and at the same time expose them to the influence of adults and mentors.
"We introduce them to the fact that church life involves more than coming to Sunday school or reading the Bible. We, and God, are interested in the whole person."
The four-team program, affiliated with the national Pop Warner Football Association, has one flag team for the youngest boys and three tackle teams divided by age and weight. Allen Fleming, the church's youth director, directs the program.
The former Howard University player and longtime Columbia resident has worked in community programs, including a church-sponsored baseball team and with other football programs. But this venture gave him a chance to combine his longtime passion for football with a simple philosophy.
"My goal was to be more than just a football program. I wanted to form this team to give them a fresh look at life in general," Fleming said. "Football is just the means to do that. ... We're learning to become better people through academics, by learning responsibility, listening to our parents and our teachers."
Fleming estimates that Howard County has between 500 and 600 youth football players, including two other programs, the Columbia Football Association Bulldogs and the Howard County Trojans. And, he says he believes, participation is growing.
"I think the parents are finding it's not as dangerous as they first perceived," said Fleming, who also coaches the oldest division, Pee Wee.
In addition to 100 participants, the CCC Warriors are buoyed by a financial fact any second-year business would cheer about: After start-up funding from the church, Fleming said, the nonprofit organization is self-sufficient and expanding. Cheerleading will be added next year, and an age division will be added each of the next two seasons.
"Parents here see how we treat the kids. It's safety first," said Fleming's wife, Carolyn, a registered nurse in the Howard County school system. Fleming is no weekend Warrior: The program is almost a full-time job for the coach. Teams practice four nights a week in August and then go to three nights a week in the fall once the eight- to 10-game season in the Maryland Football Association begins. (Home games are at Cedar Lane Park East.) Fleming also maintains a Web site (www.eteamz.com/cccwarriors).
"It makes me feel good ... when the parents tell you their kids are having fun," said Carolyn Fleming. "That's the important thing. You know you're doing the job if the kids are having fun."
"I see more concern from coaches," said Freeman Greene, grandfather of speedy Pee Wee quarterback Sherman, whose 97.6 average made him the team's academic leader last year. "Other coaches teach the same thing, but you can really see it in this program. Coaches care about the kids as a whole. They want to see the grades, too. They teach football and discipline."
Mimi Goodman - whose husband, Scott, coaches and son, Adam, plays for the Pee Wee Warriors - said, "I like it, because it is teaching vs. playing to win."
Freeman Greene said the program has had a positive effect on Sherman, a shy sixth-grader at Wilde Lake Middle School. "He likes to participate in school and class, and that's due in part to this program. It's given him a great outlet, a chance."
And let's not forget the basics. It is, after all, football.
"I like blocking," blurts out sixth-grader Kaiton Ferguson.
His older brother, Richard, a freshman, chimes in with what he thinks is best about the program: "It keeps you out of trouble."