CONNECTED Connect through fantasy football

Food. Insults. Crude jokes. Football.

These words best describe a typical Sunday in early September each year for the 10 owners in the Northern Ohio Fantasy Football Association, or NOFFA.

Now in its 24th season, NOFFA started in a Bowling Green State University dormitory, and most of the original owners are still active.

One owner chuckled, “Yes, you could say we’re still ‘active,’ but it’s a little more surprising that we’re all still alive.”

For most owners, draft day is the only time they’ll see each other all year long.

Ted Keilman, NOFFA’s commissioner and an original member, said, “We only do this once a year, but it’s great to see everyone, to get everyone together.”

Last Sunday, team owners started arriving at 11:30 a.m., followed by a short ceremony at noon during which trophies and prizes were awarded to the 2016 season winners.

The draft didn’t begin until 1 p.m. and ended about 5 p.m.

According to Tony Perrone, one of NOFFA’s original members, previous drafts lasted a lot longer.

“This used to go on forever,” Perrone said. “We’d take breaks after a few rounds, but most times, we didn’t get out until after dark.”

That NOFFA’s owners get together face-to-face only once a year and still maintain friendships over great distances is remarkable. What’s equally notable is that they operate their league on their own web-based platform.

While most fantasy football players will use online sites provided by the NFL, ESPN or Yahoo sports, NOFFA operates on a homegrown, members-only website and database.

Of course, 24 years ago NOFFA members did their research and stat analysis with newspapers, paper grids and pencils. Last Sunday, when NOFFA members assembled around the U-shaped table, almost everyone pulled out a laptop or an iPad. Some had both.

David Strukle, who has been with NOFFA for 15 years and is their “newest” member, prepared for the draft that day.

“I just bought my draft magazines this morning. But I’m prepared,” Strukle said.

Mike Pehanic, notably the quietest guy in the group, came only with a notepad and a paperback fantasy football guide.

“He’s old school,” Perrone said.

The only time the poker-faced Pehanic really spoke up was to announce his player selections.

The men are all at different stages in their personal lives. Some are single, some married or divorced. Some have kids. Their occupations range from banking and finance to IT and physical therapy.

The one constant, however, is fantasy football.

Next year marks the 25th season, an important milestone for the group. As the day concluded, members batted around ideas for a special location for the 2017 draft.

“Maybe we should head back to [Bowling Green State University],” Perrone suggested, referring to the leagues’ birthplace.

After a short pause, and almost in unison, several members said, “Vegas.”

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.

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