Failing youth football program ‘dysfunctional’

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Coach Peach trying to resurrect system

By John Herndon



What if a town was home of a statewide high school football power drawing overflow crowds on Friday nights but did not have enough boys signing up to form a youth league in the same sport?

Lawrenceburg is getting dangerously close to that point and Anderson County High School football coach Mark Peach has joined several other local youth football enthusiasts to do something about it.

Things reached a crisis stage last fall when the local league barely had enough boys for even two teams in each age group. They played each other nearly every weekend but also took to the road to play games in towns as far away as Richmond.

Derek Shouse, Director of Student Services for Anderson County Schools, Shouse, is one who signed his son, Grayson, up as part of a team, made up of Anderson County kids, that participated in the Frankfort youth league program last fall. He had been concerned about what he saw as a “dysfunction” in the local program.

“Grayson played here in the third grade, but we barely had enough kids for three teams,” says Shouse, who helped coach that team. “We had 13 kids on each team. That's not enough. Lots of different things cause you to need a few extra players: Kids get hurt. They get sick. They will have other family obligations.”

Shouse was very concerned.

“I had coached enough football that I wanted to do it right,” he said.

Peach was alarmed when he learned of the problem.

“There was no reason for our community and county to not have a first-class youth league football program,” he said. “Kids from our youth league and our middle school program played in back-to-back regional championship games.”

The 2011 high school team advanced all the way to the state Class 5A championship game before it lost to Bowling Green.

Peach has joined some local youth league supporters in their concern over the direction of the local program and the trend of local boys ending up on teams in other towns. The have formed a committee, which includes local parks and recreation director Nick Satterly, designed to revive the local program and bring local boys back into the local fold.

Just a few years ago, the Anderson County Parks Department league boasted two separate age divisions with 90 boys and four to six teams in each.

The committee wants to get the local league back to that level.

“We see the great success our Little League baseball program has had,” said Peach, who has coached in that league as well. “We now have a nice blueprint for an organization.”

Others currently working with Peach and Satterly include Brad Briscoe, Paul Mann and Shouse. All have worked with youth football with Mann currently serving as an assistant coach at Anderson County Middle School. Shouse has also worked in youth football and spent 10 years as head coach at the middle school and assistant coach at the high school.

Anderson County Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway is also concerned about the decline of local youth football. The county has recently built a new youth football field at Community Park and has purchased major upgrades in equipment.

Conway said he and the fiscal court’s parks and recreation committee are aware that not everyone approves of what has been happening with parks and recreation.

“There are people who don’t like way parks and recreation is going … that’s part of it … but I can assure you changes are being made,” Conway said Monday morning, adding that he and the fiscal court are working hard to turn programs around.

“That’s the reason the parks and recreation committee is meeting every month this year,” said Conway. “We want to get our youth programs built to what they once were, if not better.”

Conway said doing so has been difficult in part because of an effort to field a youth team made up of Anderson County boys in the Frankfort youth football leagues

“There’s [a man] who starts recruiting for a team he calls the Anderson County Falcons,” Conway said. “He’s out hustling and getting the jump on Anderson County.”

Shouse signed his son up to play for the Falcons last fall.

When his son was in the third grade, his team scrimmaged the Falcons. Shouse came away impressed with that team and the Frankfort organization.

“They had a team in each league,” Shouse said of the Falcons competing in both age divisions in the Frankfort league. “They had 18 on a team and they had six teams, counting the team from Anderson County.”

And Shouse said his son had a very good experience playing in the Frankfort league. He believes the reason is three-fold.

“They had more competition,” Shouse says. “When you are playing the same team every week, it becomes disenchanting for the kids.

“In the Frankfort league, the kids have an opportunity to play for a championship. They also have the opportunity to play for a spot on an all-star team.”

Both Peach and Shouse would like to see the same things available locally. Both understand the initial building block to a great high school football program is found in the youth league.

“Boyle County has gone to 10 regional championship games in 14 years,” Peach said. “They have a great youth program.”

Shouse adds, “The main thing about a youth sport is to teach the fundamentals and teach them the right way.”

Peach admitted that the recent emphasis on head injuries nationally might have had an effect on the numbers playing locally, but he noted that at the middle and high school levels, more boys are playing the sport than ever before.

Peach is determined that the high school football program, which has been detached from the local youth program for years, will have a major role. He says that each high school coach will be a sort of a liaison to a youth team, available to be a sounding board for ideas and offering suggestions to youth coaches.

He has also committed his coaches to working with the youth teams in pre-season. He envisions position coaches working with large groups of kids, regardless of which team they play on, teaching the fundamentals of the game.

“Coach Peach has assured me he wants to get on top of the youth program and rebuild it,” Conway said. “He and his staff will work closely with whomever the parks and recreation director is to rejuvenate this and get kids back into playing Anderson County recreation football.”

Peach says his staff will begin work with youth football just after high school practice begins in July.

“We are looking for the youth football (pre-season drills) to start on July 22,” Peach said.

That date, in itself, tells a story about the local efforts. For years, the parks and recreation department relied on getting the word out when school started in early August. Flyers were distributed in the schools and a small ad and announcement would appear in The Anderson News.

Last year, however, the local school year did not commence until mid-August, creating a time issue.

Currently, registrations are planned for the spring, taking a cue from Little League baseball and the Anderson Independent Youth Soccer Association, which have been conducting sign-ups in recent weeks for the spring sports. Online registrations are another possibility.

The committee has also been in contact with youth football organizations in several nearby counties, gleaning ideas for a successful local program and discussing a possible youth football conference.

“We are very serious about this,” Peach said several times during an interview last week. Peach, along with Mann, worked a table to provide information about the efforts at Emma B. Ward School during Saturday's youth basketball games.

Shouse, despite working with Peach, says he is not sure where his son will play football this fall. He had a good experience in Frankfort but Anderson County is home.

“I am in the middle,” he says. “I want to be here, but I want to see how it is going to be done. … If we have one of the best Little League (baseball) programs around, we should have one of the best with all sports.”

Peach agrees.

“Our county and community has provided a positive experience for our young people in basketball and baseball. We should be able to do the same in football. If counties half our size can produce a quality youth league program, we should be able to do the same here in Anderson County.

“We know we can do it because we have done if before in football. Our 2011 football seniors participated in our little league here, had a positive experience and went on to our middle school and then to our high school and played for a state championship in 2011. We want to make our youth league program even better than it was then. We have a tremendous opportunity and I am extremely excited to be able to be a part of this process for the young people of Anderson County.”

Ben Carlson of The News staff contributed to this article.