Indoor football for the kids

  • By Rich Myhre / Herald Writer
  • Monday, June 26, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

EVERETT – The idea came to Loren Coleman during an Everett Hawks arena football game earlier this year.

As he sat in the stands, watching the fast-paced action on the field and seeing the rabid enthusiasm of the spectators around him – many of them youngsters – Coleman asked himself, why not begin an arena football league for boys?

“(Arena football) is a craze,” he said. “It’s a very popular sport right now coast to coast. It’s becoming a really huge sport at the professional level. So why not get these kids involved early? Why not bring it down for them?”

From that kernel of a notion has come the Arena Youth Football League, which debuted in Snohomish County this spring with four teams – the Everett Mariners, Everett Nighthawks, Marysville Red Raiders and Lake Stevens Vikings. The players are ages 11-13 with about 20-25 players on a team. The season began in March and wraps up with a league championship game in mid-July.

The rules are essentially the same as for the pro game played by the Everett Hawks of the arenafootball2 league. Teams use eight players to a side with two interior linemen, a tight end, quarterback, running back and three wide receivers. The field is 65 yards long (including end zones) and nearly 30 yards wide, and there are padded walls – or dasher boards – around the perimeter.

The league came together quickly this spring and the response, by and large, was immediately favorable.

“There was a huge amount of interest for spring and summer football here,” said Coleman, who went on to organize the league and is now the league president. “With sports like soccer, basketball and baseball there’s a chance to play year-round, but not with football. As a fall sport, football is pretty much 21/2 months and then you’re done.

“Some of these kids don’t play other sports. Some of them play baseball, but the rest were just sitting around (in the spring), waiting for football season. This gives them a chance to get out there and play the sport they love, and to get better at it,” he said.

Once word of the league got out, prospective coaches “were just ringing my phone off the hook,” Coleman said. “They got in touch with me so fast. I knew I’d find them eventually, but they found me.”

One of them was Mike Crecelius, coach of the Lake Stevens Vikings. Initially, he said, “there was a lot of skepticism from kids and parents in Lake Stevens. People were saying, ‘Indoor football, that’s not real football.’ But the kids that turned out love it. There’s even kids who are asking, ‘Hey, is it too late to join?’ Some of them are saying they wish they’d played football instead of baseball.”

This year’s players and coaches have, in many cases, gone through a crash course in the nuances of indoor football. Even now, with the season past its halfway point, Crecelius says he sometimes reaches for the rule book.

“I’m looking all the time and seeing, ‘OK, we can do this, but we can’t do that.’ So there’s a lot of different little things that all of us, coaches and players, had to get used to,” he said. “At first it was tough. And even now you’re learning as you go.”

Thirteen-year-old Brandon Preslar, who attends Lake Stevens Middle School and plays running back and safety for the Vikings, said the rule and strategy differences sometimes “get kind of confusing,” But he also enjoys the game so much that he did not turn out for summer baseball this year.

Arena football “is really a fast-paced game,” he said. “And the crowd is closer, so you can hear everyone screaming.”

“I love it,” agreed Vikings teammate Trevor Johnson, a 13-year-old student at Lakewood Middle School who plays offensive guard and linebacker. “I love the speed and the intensity. And it seems a little more challenging (than traditional football) because it’s a shorter field.”

Others have mixed feelings about the new league. Carlos Becerra, coach of the Everett Nighthawks, says his players “are all having a good time and they think it’s a good experience, but it’s not really beneficial to them.”

He wonders about spending these few months teaching a new game when, come August, his players will return to their fall teams and fall leagues.

Becerra thinks spring football is a good idea, but would prefer that it be regular outdoor football. He thinks his players would prefer the latter, too.

Still, Coleman expects the league to expand dramatically next season. He foresees two divisions (12 and under, 13-15) of 12 teams apiece with the possibility of a third division for high school players.

“I’ve got 30 or 40 coaches wanting to come in next year,” he said.

Crecelius, meanwhile, figures Lake Stevens alone could probably field four or five teams for next season.

“For a lot of kids, football is what they live for,” he said. “And this gives them an opportunity to come out and play in the springtime. So we’ll start advertising right after this season is over, and we’re pretty sure that it’s going to be a lot bigger next year.”

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