The youth league is the only NFL-sanctioned league in Youngstown.
By WILL HANLON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — There’s a football flying through air. Penguins? No. Thunder? Not quite.
There’s another football craze in the Valley, and it is rising to become one of the premiere flag football leagues in Youngstown.
“This is college intramurals multiplied by 10,” said Elliot Giles, founder and league president of the Youngstown Flag Football Association. “It’s not just a normal flag football league; it’s the most organized and competitive league in the area.”
After graduating high school in Miami, Fla., Giles made his way to Youngstown to play football for the Penguins under coach Jim Tressel, where he played in two national championship games between 1997-99, winning in 1997. Giles graduated in 1999 with a degree in elementary education.
But after graduation, he had no plans to go back to Miami. In fact, he wasn’t going anywhere.
Instead, Giles stuck around and eventually started up the YFFA. After a year of just a men’s league, Giles decided to get local kids involved in the game. He said he had heard of the National Football League sanctioning youth leagues across the country and decided to do more research on it.
After finalizing all the details, a spring season was set up, and 18 teams were put together to play in the league’s inaugural season this past year.
“It was a tremendous success,” Giles said. “I’ve been having so much fun doing this. I love being around kids.”
NFL-supplied youth league
The youth league is sanctioned by the NFL, which supplies the T-shirts, footballs, flags and more. T-shirts have authentic NFL team names and logos on them. Being the only NFL-sanctioned flag football league in Youngstown, it is a great opportunity and experience for the kids, Giles said.
Jessie Hardin of Youngstown, was the coach for the Green Bay Packers, a team in the 5- to 8-year-old division, this past season. Hardin also has four of his own kids playing in the league.
Other divisions are for 9- to 12-year-olds and 13- to 15-year-olds.
Hardin said the youth league was special because of the opportunity it gave to kids from the area.
“A lot of these kids never got to play before,” Hardin said. “After the season, they were like, ‘Wow, we want to do this again!’”
Hardin said the word about how much fun the players were having spread to the players’ friends.
“There were a lot of kids who said, ‘We wanna play too. We wanna play too!’”
The players get to keep the NFL T-shirts they wear for games once the season is over. Hardin said his kids love the T-shirts, often wearing them even out of season.
Hardin also plays in the men’s league as a teammate of Giles on the Blue Devils.
While the NFL doesn’t provide uniforms for the men’s teams, a majority of them get sponsors, such as local bars or insurance agencies, to pay for their uniforms and fees.
The average age of a player in the men’s league is in the mid-20s, Giles said; however, there are some players in the league up to 55 years old. One of the players happens to be the vice president of a company, Giles added.
While some players are in the league for a good time, others take the game pretty seriously.
“You have no idea,” Giles said, commenting on the commitment some of the men give to the league. “We have some guys that work out three or four days a week just for this league.”
New players to the men’s league can group up with their friends to form a team or can enlist as a free agent.
The league is divided into 4-on-4 teams and 8-on-8 teams. Teams have the option of joining the competitive league or the recreational league, which is geared toward beginners.
This fall is the first season a women’s division will be added to the league. While Giles is a little anxious about the turnout, he is excited to open up a new division in the YFFA and hopes to have at least four women teams participating.
Fall season preparations
Giles is now starting to prepare for the fall season, which will begin the second week of September. Registration for any of the leagues is now under way and will close around mid-August.
While word of mouth has been a main way of advertising the league, Giles attributes most of the league’s popularity to the YFFA Web site.
“My biggest selling tool is the Internet,” Giles said. “The level of interest goes up when people see pictures and videos of some of the games.”
The Web site, www.yffa.net, is maintained by Giles, who updates it as frequently as possible, providing recaps, photos and video clip highlights of some of the games. For more information, visit the Web site, or contact Giles by calling (330) 559-1272 or e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.