Ready to tackle the season


In Anne Arundel County


Football for pre-high school youngsters is alive and thriving in Anne Arundel County. In fact, it's expanding.

Bob Brandenberger, who supervises youth leagues for the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, said Anne Arundel has 22 youth football organizations competing in those leagues, plus a few more programs that compete elsewhere. The largest of the county-affiliated programs, in terms of players, serves the Severna Park and burgeoning Gambrills-Odenton areas; the smallest is in the Marley section.

That means between 3,500 and 3,600 children - mostly boys - are playing on 180 youth teams that are organized into eight age-weight groups intended to keep play competitive and safe. Several groups offer teams for boys who are big for their age; those teams compete in a different league. Most organizations also have cheer groups, as cheering grows rapidly in popularity.

"There's a lot of new blood, meaning opportunities to play for more kids," Brandenberger said.

The number of teams has increased from 159 just a year ago, the growth attributable mainly to the addition of "B-level" teams and leagues involving six of those age-weight classes in many of the organizations for the first time. B-level play began in a couple of youth groups last fall. Those teams are for players who are just learning tackle football or who could benefit from refresher work at a lower level of play.

Some organizations start very young players with flag ball, meaning no direct contact as players learn the basics of the game, with defenses making "tackles" by ripping small pieces of fabric - the "flags" - from the belts of offensive players.

But inevitably, football involves being rough, which means blocking and tackling. And players as young as 6 are introduced to the game that way.

Practices have been going on since early last month in most areas. Last weekend was opening day for competition in county-operated youth leagues.

At Francis Station Park, better known locally as GORC Park, in the Waugh Chapel area of Gambrills, that means games Friday night and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday for young players representing the Gambrills-Odenton Recreation Council.

Enrollment in GORC's football program, said Dwain Jones, one of the tri-commissioners in the sport for the group, has increased steadily in recent years, partly because of growth in housing but also because of the addition of B-level teams. Jones' fellow commissioners in administering a program with about 300 players - plus cheerleaders as young as age 3 - are Rick Schmidt and Sue Luber.

Last weekend's play opened a nine-game regular season that continues until the end of October, when countywide playoffs begin. GORC's teams took three titles a year ago - at Anne Arundel Community College's complex on Cape St. Claire the weekend before Thanksgiving.

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