BAR HARBOR — In an effort to combat injuries and ease parents’ concerns about them, the Mount Desert Island YMCA has partnered with the National Football League (NFL) to create a flag football league for children from 9 to 13-years-old, as an alternative to the leagues currently offered that require physical contact.
The league will be headed by Nick Tymoczko, youth director at the YMCA. Practices will start the week of Sept. 6. There will be two divisions.
Instead of tackling the player with the ball, in flag football, a player must grab one of two flags attached to an opponent’s belt to end the play. This mitigates injury, Tymoczko said. He’s hoping the new limitations on player contact will ease parents worries about letting their kids play football.
“There’s a lot of new information about concussions, a lot of new information out there about what can happen with improper technique,” he said. “Parents are worried about that. They’re worried that their kids are going to go out there and get a head injury.”
Another reason Tymoczko wanted to start the league was to get kids more interested in the sport. Registration numbers for leagues are dropping, he said, especially in the middle school age range. That ultimately affects enrollment in high school programs.
“The intention behind starting flag football is to get kids excited about football,” he said.
Most sessions will be on weekends, mainly Saturday, which allows kids to play on soccer teams during the week and then get a taste of football on the weekend, Tymoczko said.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of kids double up, doing soccer and football” he said. “I’m biased. I love football, so I’m hoping they’re going to continue playing football.”
Bunky Dow, MDI High School athletic director, is excited at the prospect of having younger kids interested in football. Right now, the team is not getting as many new players as they used to, he said, and to get kids interested in football would help counteract that.
“The numbers are low,” he said. “We’re getting one or two, maybe three kids [on the team] when they graduate from middle school.”
The partnership with the NFL will provide jerseys, coach training and rules for the game. And because of the NFL’s network of flag football teams, the partnership will allow teams in the league to travel to play others around Maine and in other states if enrollment is big enough.
The program will be coached by volunteers. Funding for the program will come from YMCA resources and from a fee to enroll in the league. That amount has not been set.