Flag-football enthusiasts take to field

AT PLAY

Rec leagues give athletes an outlet without tackles, heavy padding

September 28, 2005|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Larry Geber played basketball, golf and baseball in high school and, as he got older and wanted to stay in shape, the Andover resident, now 38, moved toward basketball and football.

About 10 years ago, Geber said he got a phone call that changed his sports life. A flag-football team needed a quarterback for a Sunday-morning game and asked him to fill in. Geber enjoyed the game so much that he hooked up with friends to form a team, and about a month later, the Maryland Xtreme was born.

The Xtreme was far from successful right away, though. In fact, Geber said, his team won only one of 10 games in each of its first three seasons. But today, the Xtreme has become one of the best flag-football teams in Anne Arundel County - and in the country.

Geber has the trophies in his basement to prove it. The Xtreme is unbeaten in Anne Arundel County this fall, and is ranked eighth in one national organization's poll. In the past, the team has been ranked No. 1 in its competition bracket.

Geber said he and his teammates take part in tournaments in different parts of the country, as well as playing in the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks league.

"I had never known about [flag football] before [that phone call]," said Geber, who works in real estate. "I just wanted to go do something on Sundays. I wanted to get into something that was a little more faster-paced."

What he discovered is that flag football - named for the cloth strips each player wears on his waist that a defender must rip off to end a play - has gained popularity throughout the United States.

The Xtreme and a number of other teams from the Baltimore-Washington area compete in tournaments sanctioned by the U.S. Flag and Touch Football League, one of two national organizations. The USFTL sets up tournaments, ranks teams in different divisions and has a rule book to try to keep its member teams on the same page.

Teams often compete with eight players on a standard, 100-yard field. Some flag-football leagues compete with four players to a side on a smaller field.

Those who like to watch hand-offs and backs running through lines to gain big yardage probably won't be that interested in this type of contest. Passing is the name of this game.

"There's no running," Geber said, laughing. "You don't hand the ball off. You throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball."

The USFTL's Web site says that Executive Director Michael Cihon founded the organization in 1988 because "the sports of flag and touch football were in desperate need of some type of organization because of the vast number of different rules that were being used by different local groups around the country."

Geber's team ended the 2004 season as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation in USFTL's B Class, the same bracket in which it's currently No. 8.

Geber and friends played in seven tournaments last year, finishing first five times, second once and third once. The Xtreme is so busy that its players have competed in two leagues at once, bouncing from the Anne Arundel County league to another in South Baltimore. But they also play in tournaments as far away as Florida, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

The Maryland Chargers' story is similar. Crofton residents Reggie and Patrice Simms run the Chargers and are every bit as passionate about the sport as Geber and his friends. Reggie Simms knew a little bit about the sport at first, but he's been playing the game for about 20 years.

The Chargers also make a habit of traveling around the country to big tournaments, but they look forward to the Anne Arundel Rec and Parks games every Sunday morning. Simms said those games are really "just practice" for the bigger games and tournaments and that he remains very glad he found the sport that's become a big part of his life.

"It was just something that was traditionally done in Annapolis," Reggie Simms said. "It just went down from generation to generation."

The Simms family is thoroughly involved in making the Chargers go every week and throughout the year. Reggie Simms started playing flag football in a league where his father and grandfather were competing, and he caught the family fever.

"That was one of my means of keeping myself out of trouble," said Simms, who works for Integrated Media Systems. "I'm addicted to it now."

Patrice Simms keeps the team's players informed and takes care of the planning. The Chargers carry as many as 30 players, with starters on offense and defense - and they make sure people get playing time.

"I've been helping him out for 15 years," Patrice Simms said. "I love it. We're a football family. My daughter, Taylor, helps out, too. She keeps stats with me."

One of the more interesting stats comes from Geber, who said he threw 57 passes in a game once several years ago. But the statistics really don't matter much to anyone on the Xtreme or the Chargers.

They are just there for the game.

"It's a good thing, and it keeps you going," Geber said. "You can only play so many sports at my age, and this is like basketball and football."

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