In an era where football player safety and concussions have become major points of discussion, there is a growing concern about letting children play tackle football.
Thanks to local resident Danny Payne, local youth players will have a new tackle-free option to play the sport this spring.
Payne recently started the Elizabethtown Flag Football League, which will kick off in March and run through May. The league’s inaugural season will feature elementary school and middle school divisions, with coed teams. There is no experience level required for prospective players.
The new league is a part of NFL Flag, as well as partnering with National Flag Football.
In addition to starting the EFFL, Payne is also a local coach. He has coached with the Elizabethtown Youth Soccer Association for 12 years and Upward Basketball and little league basketball with Saint James Catholic Church. Football-wise, Payne has previously coached flag football with Elizabethtown Area Youth Football.
Payne was inspired to start up the EFFL during last year’s Pro Bowl in Orlando. The day before the game, Payne observed the flag football games that were being played as a part of the event. The games Payne saw included both boys’ and girls’ leagues.
“I walked over and just started watching these kids playing and it was crazy, high-level football,” Payne said. “It wasn’t like what you would think about like these must be the kids who are scared to tackle or don’t want to play tackle football. It was moving fast, hard-throwing, run fast.”
Payne’s son is a football fan but his wife was unsure about letting him play tackle. She told Payne that if there was a way for their son to play the sport, flag football was the best option.
With some help from fellow soccer coaches and sponsors, Payne was able to get the ball rolling on the new league.
“We pulled up enough money to work with USA Football, who works with NFL Flag and we rented seven weeks at the E’town Sports Park,” Payne said. “We’re gonna have both of the turf football fields.”
Since flag football is played north-to-south on a field instead of east-to-west, Payne said that up to three games can be played on a standard football field.
Pre-registration opened earlier this month on the EFFL website. The pre-registration will continue through the remainder of the year, with those who register before the year’s end receiving a $15 discount.
Standard registration will continue from the start of 2020 through the first week of February.
In addition to online registration, there will be two on-site registrations. The first one will be held at Pritchard Community Center on Dec. 14.
Payne added that based on how the first year goes, additions could be made in the second year. These include having separate boys and girls divisions, as well as adding a high school division.
“If I get a ton of people that say ‘hey if you would’ve had a high school (division), you know I’ve got kids that play (tackle) football that would love to play flag in the spring’, then I’m willing to open it up all the way through high school next year,” Payne said.
The league’s format will be five-on-five with all players as an active receiver or running back. With no linemen, all players will be playing offensive or defensive positions.
This is one of the main differences between the EFFL and Elizabethtown Area Youth Football’s flag football division, which features offensive and defensive lines. EAYF’s flag football program also is only for one year before going to tackle, compared to the EFFL’s plan to be an all-age flag league.
“It’s a really cool system and a really cool way to teach every single kid on the field football skills that they can use,” Payne said.
In addition to the EFFL website, Payne is in the process of getting approved for flyers in area schools. He added that request-a-friend and same-school requests can be granted for teams.
“My goal is that I want these kids to have fun,” Payne said. “If there’s friends they want to play on teams with, I want to encourage that.”
First-year goals for the league are to sign up around 200 participants with the hope that word-of-mouth helps it expand as time moves forward. This word-of-mouth includes the league’s jerseys. Since the EFFL is under the NFL Flag umbrella, players will play in special NFL Flag jerseys and get to keep their jerseys after the season’s completion.
“I think that when kids see other kids walking around town with their NFL Flag jerseys on, they’re gonna ask them ‘where did you get that, how do I get one of those?’” Payne said. “Having a successful first season, getting enough kids to show up where they’re talking about it, I really think it gives us the opportunity for this thing to just blow up.”