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Youth football league battles low numbers

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Local parent says games should be about learning

When the teams lined up for the final game of the 2012 edition of Anderson County youth football, there were no contrasting jersey colors.

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There was no other way of telling who was on offense or defense other than removable yellow beanies stretched over the eligible receivers.

“We currently are averaging about 19 boys coming out in the third- and fourth-grade league,” says Brad Briscoe, a local volunteer coach. “We don't have enough kids to play and divide the players into teams. We have the same thing in the fifth- and sixth-grade league.”

The numbers problem in youth football is not a new phenomenon. Briscoe says it has been an issue for several years. “Last year, it was a problem, but I didn't realize it,” he said. “My son was not old enough to play. This year (when his son, Braxton, was eligible to play), I realized it was a problem.”

Briscoe played in the Anderson County youth league as a child and has watched over the years.

“In 2003 to 2006, we were averaging about 90 boys in the third- and fourth-grade leadue. It was the same thing in the fifth- and sixth-grade league. We were able to have five or six teams and kids were able to play and have fun.”

Briscoe added that his team finally ended with 24 kids on the team, far too many for one team but not enough to divide.

“When you have 24 kids, you try to get them all equal playing time and that is tough,” Briscoe said.  “We also don't have enough to go round-robin (scheduling) and we have to go out of town to play other teams.”

That, in itself, is another issue, Briscoe says.

“Recently we played a team that had some kids who had turned 11 years old. We had kids who were seven, eight or nine and they got killed on the field,” he said. “We also have parents having to drive to Richmond or Boyle County or another community for their boys to play football.”

Briscoe says he and other concerned parents envision a league with about 100 boys so they can have six teams of 16 to 18 players and all get roughly equal playing time. “We want an instructional league where they are learning, having fun and learning the game,” he said.

Briscoe, a local physical therapist who works with the Anderson County High School football team, spoke before a recent Bearcat game. He believes a strong youth league pays dividends at the high school varsity level. “Five or six years ago, we had these boys,” he said as the Bearcats were going through their pre-game warmups. “You see what the program is now. It is an awesome program.”

The local league, like many other recreational leagues across the country, is competing with select or travel teams, which are now springing up in football as they have in many other sports over the years.

“Some of the local boys have left and gone to Frankfort to play and that is killing us,” Briscoe said. “Some of the Frankfort coaches come over and get the Anderson County kids to play for them in an all-star game type competition.”

Briscoe said the typical select team atmosphere in youth football consists of about 20 kids being placed on an all-star team that travels. He believes the local recreation league format serves kids better.

“Youth league should be about learning the game and having fun,” he repeated. “What we are runing into is all about winning.”

Briscoe also believes fall baseball, a relatively new offering in Anderson County, has taken some kids away from football but its impact can't be accurately measured at this time.

He also believes the recent scare over head injuries in the National Football League has played a part in the numbers problem. Briscoe says the fears, while not unfounded, need to be tempered with reality. “At this young age, they don't get the contact the people see in the pros,” he said. “It is totally different. It is like comparing pro boxing to the Blue Grass State Games 9-year-old karate. You can't compare them.”

Briscoe hopes things turn around before the fall of 2013.

“Next year will be a huge year,” he said. “Anderson County will, for the first time, have its own little league field (at Community Park). We are going to have a big ribbon cutting ceremony. That will be a make or break year.

“When I played, we had guys like my dad, Larry Briscoe, and Dale Wright, who were just trying to teach us the game of football.

“We are going to build this program back up but we have to have boys sign up. It's all about having fun and everybody getting experience.”