By Brandon Palermo
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – The New Kensington YMCA is conducting a youth flag football program that is available to many children across Allegheny and Westmoreland County.
The flag football season includes seven games from late September to early November. There is one game every Saturday at Wolf Pack Park in Lower Burrell where every team will play. The league is open to children from grades 1 to 8.
There are four age groups. Teams will only compete against other teams in their age group. The youngest group is the 1st and 2nd graders. The 3rd and 4th graders are the next age group, followed by the 5th and 6th graders, and lastly the 7th and 8th graders.
The league is headed by the New Kensington’s YMCA Youth Program Director, Jason Halfill. Halfhill, a Sports Management graduate of California University of Pennsylvania, has made this league available to children all around the area. The league is available to children in New Kensington, Burrell, Kiski Area, Leechburg, Freeport, Avonmore, Ford City, Springdale, Cheswick, Plum, Tarentum, Verona, Oakmont, and Penn Hills.
“It’s a good way to give kids the alternative to play if parents don’t feel they are physically ready to play,” Halfill said. “Or they like to be active and play football but not enough to get involved in the scholastic side of it.”
The local YMCA has been running this league for five years and it’s only getting stronger.
“Every year the league has grown,” Halfhill said. “I’ve been running it for the last three years now. The first year I ran it we had 99 kids. Last year we had 199 and this year we are up to 245.”
The other purpose of the league is to get children off the streets and participate in an organized activity. That’s where the coaches come in. They are counted on to help instill the YMCA character values of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility.
“We want the kids to have someone to look up to,” Halfhill said of the coaches. “Have fun with the kids. Show them how to have fun while playing football.”
The coaches are all volunteers and are mostly parents. There are also two referees for every game that are usually YMCA staff. Their job is to not only enforce the rules of flag football, but make sure only good sportsmanship is taking place.
The league is not just for males. It is a co-ed league where boys and girls compete together on the same team.
“It’s open to boys and girls,” Halfill said. “The majority are males though. We do have a few girls that play in the league. We are really trying to open up and let people realize that with flag football, anyone can play.”
The NFL and the YMCA have been partnered together across the country for a long time in such programs. This league is no different.
“The last two years we have been a registered NFL flag football league,” Halfill added. “That gives us the ability to use the NFL’s name and logos. Also [we] purchase NFL jerseys from them that kids can have and keep.”
The league fee is $85 for interested children that aren’t a member of their local YMCA. The YMCA likes to rewards its members by charging them $45 to play. Included is a seven-game schedule, a jersey with an NFL logo, and one practice a week.
The league is already underway for the 2008 season. Children who are interested in signing up for next season can sign up at their local YMCA.