At Play

Youth football teams near end of season, look toward playoffs

October 24, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to the Sun

The Anne Arundel Youth Football Association's regular season ends this weekend, with the upcoming playoffs giving some teams the opportunity to play on the Baltimore Ravens' home field.

The association's 21 leagues split players into teams by age and weight, based on two skill levels. These divisions, formerly called the "A" and "B" leagues, are now "Select" and "Recreation."

The recreation league will have eight championship games Nov. 17 at Arundel High. The Select championship day will include six title games Nov. 24 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The Select teams also get another opportunity: Championship teams earn a bid to a state tournament that culminates in a title round at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

That tournament, which began last year, is scheduled for Dec. 15.

Among this year's changes, the association added a freshman-sophomore league and a 13-and-under team to reach out to more children.

"Overall, the 2007 season was a success," vice president Brian Mackell said. "We made a lot of changes to make football better for the [children] as well as for the coaches. ... It made football more fun for everyone."

New home for hockey

Navy Youth Hockey teams recently began playing and practicing at the new $6 million Dr. John J. McMullen Hockey Arena near the Naval Station Annapolis.

The rink - in Navy blue and gold - has gotten rave reviews since it opened in September for the Midshipmen along with Navy Youth Hockey.

"We've already seen an expansion from last year in interest and total participation," said Paul Peditto, president of Navy Youth Hockey. "If nothing else, those families who stayed with us through the years are realizing the benefits and comforts of home."

The Olympic-size sheet of ice is part of the Brigade Sports Complex, which includes amenities such as indoor tennis courts, a fitness center and eventually a golf clubhouse. A restaurant and pro shop are planned.

Having a home rink to play in is important for Navy Youth Hockey, which had to travel around Maryland and the District of Columbia last season for home games and practices during construction.

The program's 13 teams have access to the rink Monday through Thursday nights from 6 to 10, plus time on the weekends.

"I think everyone really likes and enjoys having a place to go," said Don Fuhr, the program's scheduler and a former board member. "It's a home rink, and they don't have to travel. It's nice just to have one place to go."

Peditto said the league is looking into adding skills clinics and camps in the spring and summer starting next year.

Soccer for fun

Most high school children who play soccer in the fall do it for their school team.

Teens who join Anne Arundel Youth Soccer play just to play. The program, which targets teens who don't play the sport in high school, has grown to 24 teams.

Boys play the typical 11-on-11 format and girls the 7-on-7 variety that is becoming more popular in children's soccer.

Tom Gruver coaches one of the two Cape St. Claire programs. His son, Josh, plays on a team that has a 4-3-1 record through eight games. Gruver's team is in third place in its division, with first place probably out of the picture.

But players and coach aren't worried about that. "They're playing because they like playing," Gruver said. "They just enjoy the game."

Because kids who compete for their high school team cannot play it simultaneously at the recreation level, Gruver hopes during the spring seasion to pick up a player or two from the Broadneck teams.

His team is in an under-18 division that lets children as young as age 14 play. That makes it challenging for coaches, in getting kids of varying ages to bond. Gruver said he's fortunate because many have played together since they were 10 or 11.

"I've been at both ends of the spectrum," he said. "Most of my team now are seniors, but when they came in as freshmen, it was quite jarring when you're sitting there and then you are looking at the other kids who came in and drove themselves."

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