Youth football program grows

League has 319 teams, more than 8,000 players

October 22, 2006|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,special to The Sun

The Harford-Baltimore County Youth Football League is celebrating its 20th anniversary this season, and there's no question that the times are changing in local youth football.

This league covers all of Harford County along with parts of Baltimore County, plus other areas nearby where teams can easily travel to play.

It now covers 28 areas and 319 teams along with more than 8,000 players in nine different age groups, and it has become one of the biggest recreation football leagues in Maryland.

In fact, the league has nearly quadrupled in size over its 20-year existence.

The league starts with children ages 5-6 and continues through unlimited-weight teams for ages 11-13.

Teams are compiled by age and weight in an attempt to provide parity among the various groups. The teams have a nine-game regular season plus three weeks of playoffs and teach children what it's like to be on a high school football team.

Practices start Aug. 1, nearly four weeks before the opening game.

They practice nearly every day until school begins, when practice is limited to six hours per week.

Paul Yanney is the chief of recreation for Harford County and has been around more than 30 years. He remembers that the Harford football program was in place when he started his job about 1974.

But he also sees the way the program has grown.

Yanney said that an outside source helped football grow, especially in the past decade. Yanney feels that the Ravens coming to the area in 1996 gave football a big spark in the area.

"It's my opinion, and that of others, that we know the [arrival] of the Ravens is why recreation football is growing," Yanney said. "It does make sense."

Yanney said things began to change when a program from Middle River in Baltimore County entered in the mid-1980s.

That opened the door for programs from places such as Delaware, Howard County and Cecil County.

In Harford County, there are programs in Bel Air, Joppatowne/Edgewood, Fallston, Aberdeen, Havre de Grace, Jarrettsville and Emmorton.

Harford County programs make up less than half of the total programs in the league, but they were the driving force in helping expand.

Yanney and others also think that the improvement of Harford youth football will help its local high school teams, as more players come with experience.

North Harford has a popular youth football team, and the school made the state high school playoffs last year for the first time in 32 years. The Hawks were then ranked in The Sun's top 15 teams in the Baltimore region in the first part of this season.

"Kids are playing longer and learning more, and you'd think that kids are going to be better prepared for [high school] football," Yanney said.

Ken Zorbach, acting supervisor of physical education and athletics, also thinks that kids learning to play earlier could help them in high school because coaches won't have to spend as much time teaching the basics.

"It will have a positive impact on play in Harford County because there's more teams that are playing football," Zorbach said. "There are more kids being involved at a younger age, and then when they get to the high school level, they already know the basics of football."

Zorbach said this kind of growth is similar to what he has seen in soccer and girls lacrosse over the past decade.

Club teams have helped that sport find a lot more popularity because it gets more kids on the field and playing at a higher level.

The North East Maryland Select team has done the same thing with girls lacrosse over the past five years.

The Harford-Baltimore County league is trying for another form of growth. They're working with other leagues and the Ravens to start some kind of statewide recreational football state championship that could take place at M&T Bank Stadium -- home of the Ravens.

Craig White is the chairman of the board for Bel Air Terps football and has been part of discussions with the Ravens and other groups. White was hopeful this could take place this season, but they're still in the midst of discussions, so the situation remains unclear.

"I think it would be fabulous for kids who play football in the state of Maryland," White said. "We hope that it will begin to put Maryland football on the map on both a youth and high school level."

In addition to Harford-Baltimore County, the Carroll County and Central Maryland Football Leagues already have agreed to take part in the tournament and a fourth group is close. Mike Milani is the president of the Central Maryland Football League and is optimistic like White about this tournament taking place.

"It's looking good that we're going to work something out," Milani said. "The details still need to be worked out. Everyone is on the same page as far as they want it to happen. Now it's just a matter of trying to make it happen. Everyone wants it to happen."

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