Oregon resident Dan Briones was working out in a gym in Northwood in the late 1980s when the gym manager approached him with an idea.
"He said, 'Have you ever played organized football?' " Briones recalled. "I said, 'I'd love to play football. What kind of commitment would it take?' "
Briones didn't know that the manager was talking about playing flag football.
"It was kind of an interesting game," Briones said. "They had referees and an actual league. It's basically eight-on-eight and full-contact, except tackling. I went out and started playing, and I have been playing ever since."
That was 1987, and Briones has since been inducted into the Ohio United States Flag and Touch League (USFTL) Hall of Fame. The USFTL is the national sanctioning body for organized flag football across the country.
Mark Kuhn is a project manager for Normand & Associates in Perrysburg, but he also has an interesting side job. For the past 11 years he has been the director for Northwest Ohio Flag Football, LLC (NWOFF). Kuhn, who also is in the Ohio USFTL Hall of Fame, is in his 24th year of flag football either as a player, coach or official.
The NWOFF, for men 18 and over, plays all of its outdoor games at East Broadway Middle School. The first game starts at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday morning and ends with 1:30 p.m. games.
"This is probably one of the best kept secrets in Northwest Ohio," said Briones, 43, "It's a fun league. Mark runs a good program."
The league plays every Sunday, beginning with a fall league that goes from the second week of September through the first week of November, followed by the state tournament in Columbus.
The league then has a winter indoor league beginning in November. All games are played at Gold Medal Indoor Sports in Rossford. This year's spring league consisted of 37 teams, according to Kuhn, and runs from the end of March through June.
"We play pretty much year round," Kuhn said. "There are tournaments every weekend somewhere. I was just up in Pontiac (Mich.) over the weekend officiating a tournament."
The NWOFF held an eight-team Summer Tournament in June, won by Walbridge Rough Riders over Toledo Playmakers.
"There are typically 15-20 guys on a roster," Kunn said. "It is played eight-on-eight, and we have guys from everywhere. Guys from Findlay - from all over Northwest Ohio. Guys drive down from Monroe. We have a lot of fans. The games are packed with people."
Kuhn estimated there are as many as 800 organized flag football teams throughout the U.S. Flag football is very big in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan.
"When I took over there were 12 teams (in the NWOFF) and we played in the fall," Kuhn said. "We built it up to 40 teams last fall. We had 37 teams in this past spring league and I'm anticipating 50 teams for our fall league. I'm taking over a league in Findlay. Guys like to play. It's comparable to softball. It's relatively inexpensive."
Flag football is played on a 100-yard field, and live blocking between the shoulders and waist is allowed. The NWOFF features ex-football players from local colleges, like the University of Toledo and the University of Findlay.
Flag football leagues are broken up into four classes - A, B, C and D.
"The A Division is the top of the line," Kuhn said. "It's some serious football for flag football. It is not powder puff. Locally, we don't have any super powerhouse teams. We have a couple of good C teams nationally. It's all (based) on ability and how much contact you want involved.
"In the lower divisions, those guys play mostly for fun. They're out there on Sundays for exercise. Then you have guys who are diehards, and some play semi-pro football. We are organized and we are insured. The majority of our officials are high school officials."
The USFTL hosts a state tournament in Columbus every November, which typically draws 150 teams. A 200-team national tournament is also held in Orlando, Fla., every January.
The Rough Riders won the Class D state tournament last November, and Sidelines won the Class C state tournament last year. Five teams from Toledo have won state tournament titles.
Briones is a player-coach for the local La-Z-Boy team, which has been around since 1999. La-Z-Boy has been ranked as high as No. 7 in the country in the C division.
"We've finished in the top five in the state a few times, and we were also in the top 10 a few times," Briones said. "We've won numerous regional awards, and our last league title was in 2006."
Briones said about 65 percent of his 24-player team is made up of Oregon and East Toledo residents
"The standard joke is we usually have the most players - 25-30 guys who will come out in the beginning and then they fall off (the roster) later in the season," Briones said. "We're one of the few teams that still travels. We're one of the last of our breed. When we first started playing, it was all open divisions. We've had a bunch of core guys and picked up from there."
Briones added that the allure for most of the men who play flag football is the opportunity to continue playing organized football.
"It's another chance to keep playing, and you get some recognition," he said. "In tournaments you get tournament MVP. We've had Denny Miller, who has been the National Invitational Tournament MVP, and a few other guys have won MVP honors in tournaments. Don Hardy from Gibsonburg is in the Ohio USFTL Hall of Fame.
"It's one of those games where some of your better players are in their 30s and 40s. They have experience, and some of them are pretty talented. Regular football about strength and power. Flag football more about strategy."
Some of the NWOFF teams with local connections are the Toledo Titans, led by player-coach Tom Pollard, the Rough Riders (Mike Brown is player-coach), the GR Raiders (Augustine Mejia), Playmakers, Quarters Bar & Grill, Apts-Irish Buffalo (Justin Barret), Glass City Warriors, WMD’s (Alejandro Castillo), Zips, Street Starz, Lights Out! Above Realty Car Care, and Team Hova.
"We have quite the mix of people," Kuhn said. "Our 2009 spring league consisted of 600-plus players."
The NWOFF is hosting a mid-summer tournament this weekend. There is a five-on-five tourney on Saturday and an eight-on-eight tournament on Sunday. All games are played at East Broadway Middle School, beginning at 8:30 a.m.