At Play

Pushing the limits on the gridiron

August 22, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to The Sun

The Pasadena Chargers, an 8-and-under, 80-pound team, held their own in a scrimmage last weekend against a team from Prince George's County.

Though some players were smaller than their opponents, the Chargers matched up better physically, thanks to changes the Anne Arundel Youth Football Association has made for this season.

The association, which includes 21 programs and nearly 6,000 players, raised the weight limits for each division by five pounds and opened the door for teams with no weight limits for middle school students and high school freshmen and sophomores.

Eight or nine teams had started them for middle schoolers as of last week, but the situation for the freshmen-sophomore unlimited teams won't be known until local high schools make their final roster cuts shortly. Those who get cut now have another place to play.

"We wanted to provide an opportunity for every kid to play football," said AAYFA president Rick Peacock. "In football, we have a tendency not to let them play football if they get too big. Anybody that wants to play football now can play."

Two AAYFA programs had unlimited teams last year, but they had to play outside of the group just to be able to have a season. That won't be the case this year.

Ivan Quinones, an association board member and former longtime coach, believes the unlimited teams will help prepare kids for possible high school careers.

"It gives them an opportunity to operate in an environment that's closer to what they're going to see in high school," he said.

Peacock and others said the changes were prompted by last year's inaugural Maryland Invitational football tournament for recreation programs around the state.

Anne Arundel coaches and directors were upset to discover that their teams were often smaller than their opponents because the various programs used different weight and age standards.

Many of the state's football programs convened in winter for a meeting at the Baltimore Ravens' training complex in Owings Mills and agreed to have more consistent standards for 2007.

While AAYFA players last year in the 75-pound weight class could weigh a maximum of 88 pounds with equipment, this season, it's an 80-pound division where players can weigh up to 98 pounds. That could result in a 23-pound difference and something closer to what other programs are doing.

"We're set up better so we're on the same page as other [programs]," Peacock said.

They're hoping the changes will help when the renamed Maryland Youth Football State Championships take place, with title games in different divisions set for Dec. 15 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Peacock and other AAYFA coaches have been pleasantly surprised with how many new players have joined this season - participation is up1,200 over last year.

Children ages 6 to 15 can play in the AAYFA's 16 different weight classes, and Peacock said approximately 250 teams will take the field this season. The biggest problem will be finding practice time and places for everyone since teams work out three times per week during the season.

"[The increase in players] hurts in practice and field space, but that's a nice problem to have," Peacock said.

Jason Clarke is the coach of the Pasadena team and has seen a definite difference because of the rule change. Clarke said that previously, kids who were big for their ages often had to compete against players a few years older, which can be difficult because of differences in skills and emotional maturity.

"We're trying to keep our kids together age-wise," Clarke said.

That is why he was pleased with how his Chargers did in last weekend's scrimmage.

" It definitely allowed us to compete," said Clarke, who's also on the AAYFA's board of directors.

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