Youth programs at touch of a button

7-18-03, 10:10 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

There is the ready-made football that is about to bust out in the next 10 days when the Bengals and their NFL brethren open training camps.

But there is also the do-it-yourself football that heats up about this time of year in the form of the league's youth programs and you don't have to leave your community's backyard. A computer mouse or a phone call regarding an NFL FLAG league or the Punt, Pass and Kick competitions is all you need to have a ball.

"Starting a PP&K competition is as easy as giving your name, address and e-mail. It's pretty much automatic," says Julie Dunn, the national coordinator for Punt, Pass and Kick. "If you can't run it personally, but would like to get an organization to do it, just send them to the website.

"Or, we've had parents and coaches who get together and start one," Dunn says. "Many local groups such Parks and Recreation, (YMCAs), Boys&Girls Clubs, and community centers get involved, but anyone can administrate a competition. We've tried to make it as easy and accessible as possible."

The website "NFLyouthfootball.com," which contains icons for NFL FLAG, and Punt, Pass and Kick, supplies electronic registration forms and names of local contacts. Similar information can be obtained by calling toll-free 1-800-NFL-SNAP.

With approximately 7,500 local Punt, Pass and Kick competitions nationwide set for August through late September, this is the peak time for registration for boys and girls in age groups 8-9, 10-11, 12-13, and 14-15.

Anyone can hold a local competition for Punt, Pass, and Kick, which can literally be run out of a box. Those registered as a competition organizer receive an age verification chart, a kicking tee, a junior football, an intermediate football, flyers promoting the event, rules, and a how-to-playbook to run the event.

In October, all local first place winners move to sectionals, and the sectional champs advance to the team championships in November that are held at halftime of NFL games. The Bengals' winners will be crowned Dec. 14 during the game against the 49'ers at Paul Brown stadium before they move to the national finals at an AFC divisional playoff game in January.

In NFL FLAG, boys and girls compete in co-ed leagues from ages 6-8 and 9-11, and are in their own leagues from 12-14, and the leagues can be run at any time during the year.

Dunn said the NFL FLAG program usually breaks into one of two seasons, fall or spring, with eight regional championships held in October and the national championship set for November at DISNEY'S WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS ® Complex in Orlando, Fla.

"But it depends on the weather and field situation," Dunn says. "In places like Florida, it can go all-year round."

Teams of 10 receive 10 NFL team-identified reversible jerseys, 10 NFL FLAG belts, and two NFL team identified footballs. Equipment should be ordered two to three weeks before the league begins, and the league recommends 10 weeks to promote the program.

The minimum cost to play NFL FLAG is $15 per child. Organizations also have to decide how much each participant contributes to cover additional costs such as coaches/referees fees, field maintenance, and promotional materials. Fees for leagues around the country have ranged from $15-$75. Out of each player's league registration fee, $15 is made payable to the NFL to cover the cost of uniforms and equipment. The retail value of a kit is $38.90 with a portion of the proceeds going to the Boomer Esiason Foundation benefiting the fight against cystic fibrosis.

Another youth program, NFL Junior Player Development, is already in place and Cincinnati has one of 50 camps in 22 NFL markets. A group of 125 children are participating in what has been described as "Football 101," in a camp that runs from July 14 to July 26 at Taft High School. Bengals cornerback LaVar Glover, fullback Terry Witherspoon, and rookie linebacker Khalid Abdullah helped coaches during two of the first three camps. Tight ends Sean Brewer and Brad St. Louis and linebacker Dwayne Levels also checked in one day to help on the field as well as talking to youngsters.

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