POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2012:
Local youth football league combines a big production with a big message
The crowd rises to its feet as the home team methodically marches down the field. With little less than a minute remaining before halftime, the offense moves within striking distance of adding to an already substantial 22-point lead. As the unit huddles, the offensive coordinator sends in a substitute who sprints feverishly onto the field to relay the next play. The officials take their positions on the field, while the linesman on the near sideline finish setting up the first-down chains. It's first and 10 from the 18-yard-line.
Eagerly anticipating a quick strike that sends their team into the second half with a commanding four-touchdown lead, the home fans begin clapping in near-unison as the quarterback relays instructions to the offense. As the play clock winds down, screams, whistles and the resounding ring of a cowbell reverberate throughout a sea of red and white-clad faithful. Several fans sport face paint, with others donning custom made apparel, complete with color-coordinated sequins and glitter.
Just above the crowd, a private company that catalogs thousands of hours of game film for scouting and development purposes focuses on the action. They keep their cameras rolling, hoping to pick up on each and every little tendency of the players involved.
In the stadium's concourse area, vendors begin preparing for the usual halftime rush. In a short while, patrons will file toward these concession stands, ready to devour the customary treats associated with Saturday football.
As the offensive players take their positions along the line of scrimmage, coaches from both teams bark last-second instructions. The visiting team's defensive coordinator orders his defensive backs into press coverage -- he doesn't want a receiver getting open without a fight.
Once the ball is snapped, the quarterback moves left and feigns a pitch to a trailing running back. The defenders bite on the fake, leaving huge holes on the outside. Seeing the opening, the quarterback tucks the ball away, takes off toward the home sideline and turns up field.
The home crowd erupts in delight as the quarterback crosses the goal line, and victory music erupts from the PA system. After a quick extra-point attempt extends the score to 29-0, music fills the stadium as both teams head off the field to prepare for the second half.
Following a quick recap of the first half by the coaching staff, the home team breaks from their intermission meeting and makes way toward water jugs. Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, the head coach scolds his group for their effort in the first half. None of the players' heads hang, however; everyone listens attentively and responds positively.
Given such a sophisticated atmosphere, it would seem players should be spending the remainder of the halftime break having their ankles re-taped or going over plans for the impending second half. Instead, many of the players choose to do something far less traditional -- they go visit with their moms.
Only at this very moment does it become clear the participants of one of the most thoroughly produced sports exhibitions in town are merely 10 years old.
It comes as little surprise something as inconsequential as youth football would be one of the more impressive public events in Tulsa. Much like this early-autumn contest at Bishop Kelley High School, youth football has become a massively produced activity throughout Oklahoma.
Gone are the old days, when youngsters would strap on old, hand-me-down equipment and run a couple of simple plays on a field composed of little more than dirt and weeds. Today, thanks to leagues like Tulsa's Indian Nation Football Conferencea, kids play on professionally manicured fields with state-of-the-art equipment. Right down to the names on the back of each jersey, every detail of youth football is reproduced at near-professional quality.
Additionally, teams possess multiple personnel units for offense, defense and special teams, with each division having a specialized coach. About the only thing separating the league from the NFL are instant replay and a headset sponsorship from Motorola.
"It's quite a production," says Carl Patton, one of the faithful parents in attendance at the Bishop Kelley football field. "In my day we ran five or six plays from two formations. These kids get a playbook with 40 or 50 plays from nearly every formation you could think of."
More important than impeccable equipment and a complex game plan, the life-lessons conveyed to the children are also second to none. Though the boys are often held to the same sort of rigorous training and competitive demands found at any level of the game, the ideas of setting goals and working diligently toward achieving them are loyally vocalized. Teamwork, determination and self-sacrifice are thrust to the spotlight, taking precedence over the notion of simply winning games.
"The kids respond well to being taught the right way to do things," says Ax Synar, head coach of the Bishop Kelley 10-year-old team. "We do everything together. We run together, we stretch together, and because of that, we learn to achieve together."
In an age when players are scouted as early as junior high, and education often takes a backseat to athletics, it's refreshing to hear of youth leagues that provide more value than a simple understanding of X's and O's. The youngsters of the INFC are not merely potential star quarterbacks and defensive ends. They're still just kids -- who happen to be learning valuable life lessons through a game most everyone adores.
"They learn to work together," says Synar. "They all learn 'Do your job so that we can succeed as a team.' It's contagious. If you convey that passion, with conviction and spirit, it turns over, and (the kids) take over and start achieving on their own. That's maturity."
With such emphasis on teaching more than just the basics of fierce competition, the future of football seems very promising. Not so coincidentally, the future of a portion of Tulsa's youth seems much brighter as well.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A52672