Flag football keeps kids in line

More games have meant fewer behavior-related visits to the principal's office at one school.


As soon as they tumbled out of Waterloo Elementary School and into the bright sunshine for recess last week, about 20 fourth-graders ran across a field, straight for Yon Fisher.

Quickly, they collected their belts from him, some with red flags and some with yellow, and within moments, the flag football game had begun.

By the time 10-year-old Ahmad Arafat arrived, the two teams of eight players each already were filled. He decided to stick around anyway to watch. He's been playing every day since school started, he said.

"I love it," he said, "because it's a lot of running and my favorite thing is to run. When I catch the ball, it makes me feel happy, like I caught the ball and now I can run."

School officials feel happy about the flag football games held during fourth-grade and fifth-grade recess for a different reason. Since the games were implemented in the last school year, behavior-related referrals to the principal's office have dropped substantially, said Principal Arlene Harrison.

In September of 2004, nine fourth- and fifth-graders were referred to the principal's office during recess. This year, the number had dropped to five, she said.

She attributes the improvement to the organized flag football games that Fisher, the school's alternative education program coordinator, has started and supervises.

"Recess was when kids were getting time-outs," Harrison said. "We asked [Fisher] if he wouldn't mind organizing some structure. He did it, and he did a great job."

Kids needed rules

Before Fisher began the flag football games, kids were playing a version of the sport, but there was no structure, he said.

"They were pushing each other and getting hurt," he said. "I wanted to encourage the game, but it had to be under different rules. They needed to know the rules and they needed to know how to frame their free time, because it's challenging for a kid, especially when the rules change every day for them."

Last school year, Fisher, who describes himself as a combination guidance counselor, teacher and administrator, got together with interested kids to form a rule committee that created the school's recess-time flag football playbook, he said. "We voted, and we officially wrote them in," he said of the rules.

During the 2004-2005 school year, the organized flag football game was only for fifth-graders. This year, the games are being played by fourth-graders as well. Harrison said she plans to expand the program to third-graders in the near future.

Though recess is only 20 minutes long, Fisher keeps the action moving, so the kids get as much playtime as possible.

During the game, he never takes his eyes off the field. He starts the action with a coin toss, and he's constantly walking among the kids, announcing each down and praising good sportsmanship. "Red's ready, yellow's ready. Let's go," he'll say at the start of a play.

Play is voluntary

The games are completely voluntary - kids who don't want to play don't have to. But the same students seem to return day after day. "The playground stuff's not really fun," explained Tevin Graise, 10, a fifth-grader.

"It's nice because you get to run and exercise," said Brian Henson, 10, also in fifth grade.

The football games attract more boys than girls, but both the fourth- and fifth-graders had at least one girl playing on a recent weekday. Fifth-grader Lauren Davila, 11, said she liked being the only girl playing. "It's really good," she said.

Elsewhere on the playground, some kids were dribbling or tossing basketballs or climbing on the playground equipment. But Ahmed wasn't interested in doing anything else. He stayed close to the football game, watching.

"Flag football is fun, very fun," he said.

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