Reminder Assistant Editor
LONGMEADOW About 230 boys, entering grades four through eight, run laps, run drills and run up their enthusiasm for football at their practices for the Longmeadow Youth Football Association (LYFA). Practices started last week in hot, humid weather, but that hasn't slowed anyone down yet.
"We grow every year, adding between seven and 15 kids every season," said Coach Tom Gerweck.
"We're proud of our high retention rate, too," added Bob Ostrander, president of the LYFA. He spoke fondly of the players who returned year after year, eventually entering the high school program. "The fact that they keep coming back shows that we're doing something right."
Longmeadow teams on the pee-wee, junior and senior levels participate in the Suburban Amateur Football League (SAFL) that includes more than 20 towns in the area. The SAFL, which has been in existence for approximately 30 years, actively regulates the rules and tenor of play, according to the LYFA Web site (www.longmeadowfootball.org).
To be able to play in the LYFA, children must either go to school or live somewhere in Longmeadow. Both girls and boys are invited to join.
"There aren't any girls signed up this year, but we have had some in the past," Ostrander said. "Sometimes those girls play harder than the boys, too."
The LYFA appoints more than 50 coaches for up to nine different teams in the league. All the coaches attend clinics and are professionally trained for their positions. The dedication of the coaches is just one part of what occurs when football season starts.
"When a child signs up for football, the entire family signs up for football," Gerweck said. "The athletes, the coaches, the families all make a commitment to the game."
One positive side effect of involving everyone in the sport is the emphasis on physical fitness.
"Kids are here practicing while their parents use the track," Ostrander said. "It really helps to show how fitness is a lifelong goal."
An aspect of the youth football league that is unique to Longmeadow, according to Ostrander, is the high school football program's support of the younger players.
"They let us use their fields, their equipment and high school players often help us out at practice," Gerweck stated.
It is this spirit of sharing that led to the LYFA giving something back to the high school.
A brand new flagpole has been installed near the high school's playing field and soon the goal posts will have a fresh coat of paint.
"The way the posts look now is almost embarrassing," Gerweck said. "They're rusty and just look old. We want to fix them up to show our support for the high school's program." They plan to have the goal posts painted on Aug. 13.
The LYFA is always looking for new projects to tackle at the high school. They utilize fundraisers, the sale of merchandise and the enrollment fees from athletes to earn funds for the projects. In the past, they've even earned grant money from the NFL Players' Association.
"We're teaching these kids the right way to play, both on the field and off," Gerweck said. "It's for the kids and it's to have fun."
Practices began Aug. 7 and games will start in early September.