Youth football keeps on going and growing

Volunteers' enthusiasm keeps about 4,000 kids of all weights and ages in the game

November 09, 2005|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ron Lyons joined the Anne Arundel Youth Football Association in 1975 to help with the coaching of his children's teams. He loved football and wanted to help teach kids more about the sport.

Lyons is a perfect example of why the football association has been so successful since it started in 1968. Parents and adults who give countless hours to coach and help run teams on a regular basis have ensured the league's consistent growth. The league has doubled in size since Lyons joined. With about 4,000 players, it remains one of the county's most popular recreation sports programs.

"I know it sounds corny, but the dedication of the volunteers - they're the ones who are there day in and day out," said Bob Brandenburger, a sports supervisor for the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks. "I tell them that for me it's a job, but for them it's a passion."

There are 22 organizations sponsoring about 180 teams in a variety of divisions. Children ages 6 to 15 play in eight classes broken down by age and weight.

Each organization is responsible for providing a home field, and games are played at parks, fields and schools throughout the county. Brandenburger has been running the league for three years and has seen real growth in the last two years.

Brandenburger and the county wanted to try for more competitive programs with teams that were smaller and losing a lot. That's why they started a B league last year, and its popularity shot up overnight, with B league teams in every weight class from 75 to 130 pounds.

In the end, there will be B league teams in six divisions, which will continue to help the program's growth.

"It really caught us off guard, in a good way," Brandenburger said. "It's got to be discouraging for kids to go out there and get hammered week in and week out, and the B league [helps stop] that."

There are nine-game seasons for teams at both levels, then playoffs for the 75- to 160-pound leagues. The A leagues have two conferences in each, where the top four teams in both divisions qualify for the playoffs. The B league's top four teams overall make the postseason.

The two division winners will play for the county crown in the A league Nov. 26 at Arundel High. There will be seven championship games - all weight classes except 65-pounders - and the six B league title games go the week before at the site of the highest remaining seeds.

Lyons never left the organization once he joined in 1975. His children now are 39 and 37, but Lyons is the coach of his grandson's team in the Peninsula Athletic League (105-pounders). His granddaughter is a cheerleader there.

He said that the fact that different groups work well together has been very important in the program's growth.

"There's a good bonding between the organizations," Lyons said. "Everybody seems to get along, and we're out here for the kids."

Lyons has sat on the association's board since 1980 and said the county's consistent growth has been another reason the league has kept growing.

Many other sports - soccer, for example - are going to year-round formats, but the association is sticking with offering football only in the fall. The format has worked well for 38 seasons, and officials see no reason to change.

"It's a tight-knit group, and we're very strict and run it by the book," Lyons said. "We only offer football once a year. The kids need a little bit of a break."

Michael Strange from Davidsonville plays with a group of fifth- and sixth-graders in the 105-pound league. He's on the South River Gators and has been playing for five years. Michael has seen a lot of playing time at cornerback and on special teams this season.

But he was very proud to have earned a start at cornerback in the Gators' playoff game last weekend, where they earned an easy win. The smile on Michael's face when talking about the game showed how much he enjoys the sport.

"It takes a lot of determination to play," he said. "It's a lot of fun. I actually want to be a pro football player when I grow up."

jseid1234@yahoo.com

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