Enjoy the game without the pain

Football: A Howard County recreational touch league allows older players to compete and still go to work on Monday.

October 20, 2002|By Nathan Max | Nathan Max,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Brian Kemp has played football since childhood, but when he turned 30 years old, he decided he needed to find a kinder, gentler league.

That was seven years ago. Kemp and his teammates discovered the Howard County Recreational Run and Shoot Football League, an atypical type of competition played in fall and spring at Rockburn Branch Park in Elkridge.

Kemp, now 37, and his Rocky Run teammates, sponsored by a Columbia brew-restaurant, had been playing in a full-contact, two-hand touch league in Prince George's County since he graduated from college. But as he and his friends aged, he said, the punishment started to wear on everybody.

"When I turned 30, we said that was enough at the full-contact league," said Kemp, of Ellicott City. "In the last season, we had four broken bones out of 15 guys. So we decided to get out of that league because we still had to get up and go to work the next day."

Kemp, a salesman for a manufacturer of vinyl replacement windows, found the answer to his problems by relocating his franchise into the no-contact Run and Shoot.

"They call it run and shoot, but it's all shooting," said Kemp, who played cornerback in high school for Calvert Hall in Towson. "It's better for us now. You're always going to have some contact, but the benefits are ... that it keeps you in shape and keeps that sport in your blood, and you're not in pain at work on Monday."

The run-and-shoot league conducted by Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks has several rules that differentiate it from other touch and flag football leagues:

First and foremost, blocking and bump-and-run coverage are not allowed. Neither are running plays; teams use only passing plays.

On offense, there are five players, a quarterback and four receivers. They compete against six defenders, only one of whom is allowed to rush the quarterback, and then, only after four seconds have passed from when the ball is put into play.

A ball carrier is ruled down by contact after a defender touches him with one hand.

The field is 80 yards long and broken into 20-yard segments. After the offensive team passes a first-down line that delineates 20 yards from the previous line, the offense is awarded a new first down, no matter where the last set of downs started.

"You could have first-and-19 or first-and-1, depending on where your last play finished," said Greg Prestel, who coaches and plays for the first-place Barbarians.

Prestel said that the average player on his team is 38, with the range going from 32 to 46. He is also grateful to the league for helping him keep his group of friends together. Barbarians quarterback Mike Stoner and Al Feldblum played varsity football with Prestel at Laurel High in 1980-1981.

"Mike and I started in kindergarten together, so we've been friends basically our whole lives," Prestel said.

"It's a pretty competitive league," he continued. "There are some guys that played some college ball. A lot of the teams have been there for several years, so there's a real camaraderie."

In all, the run-and-shoot league has about 150 participants on 12 teams that play an eight-game regular season schedule and a single-elimination post-season tournament.

Adam Wienckowski, the league director, said most players are in their mid-30s, and the oldest player in the league is 49. The minimum age is 18, but this fall, all participants are at least in their 20s, he said.

Wienckowski, a rec and parks sports-program assistant, said the league is at least 17 years old, having started before 1985, and was initially played on a 60-yard field at Patapsco Middle School in Ellicott City.

For about 10 years, games were played only in the fall, but as the league's popularity grew, a spring season was established as well.

"We want to provide the players with the opportunity to go out and play at a competitive level while keeping it as non-physical as possible," Wienckowski said. "A big difference is we are more structured and well-managed, compared to other leagues."

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