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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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The Northwood School District has a youth football program for third- and

pic-morrison-kapfhammer
P.J. Kapfhammer (left) & Brad Morrison

fourth-graders. So do other school districts in the area.

Oregon does not, but that is about to change next fall.

"Oregon is one of few communities around that does not have a youth tackle football program at the third- and fourth-grade level," Brad Morrison said. "Myself and some other parents in the community who have played or coached have kicked it around, but nobody really has stepped up."

Morrison, a 1987 Clay graduate, and his business partner at Maumee Bay Turf, P.J. Kapfhammer, are organizing a Maumee Bay Youth Tackle Football League for third- and fourth-graders in the Oregon School District. They also plan to have teams for youngsters who do not attend school in Oregon.

"This is geared more toward kids who want to be trained for Clay High School football some day," Morrison said. "There will be no cuts, and we will focus on footwork, quarterback drops and other fundamental things that any age can handle.

"P.J played football at Clay and I coached (volleyball) at Clay, and what we're going to do is start a program geared toward fundamentals. We're trying to build a feeder program for Oregon schools. We want to make it a club program where we're taking kids who want to be coached on fundamentals."

Morrison, who also coached boys basketball and volleyball at Northwood, said he wants to pattern the Maumee Bay Youth Tackle Football League after the youth programs being run by, among others, veteran Northwood High School football coach Ken James.

"Ken has done a great job with his youth program," Morrison said. "Otsego has a good third-, fourth- and fifth-grade program. We've pulled the handbook from the most positive programs around. We're not going to try to re-invent the wheel, but it will be a very structured, fundamental atmosphere.

"We're going to bring in guys who want to coach football and we're going to give these kids the proper skill set. It's going to be 100 percent positive, and when you come here, we're going to teach you some things and you're going to learn.

"If there is enough interest, we plan to start our own league in Oregon," Morrison added. "If there is only enough interest for a couple teams, there are places for one or two teams (to compete) around here. If we have five or six teams, we'll just keep it here and do it. If we have fewer teams, we will jump into some Northwest Ohio football leagues."

James, whose Northwood squad won its third straight Toledo Area Athletic Conference championship this season and reached the state playoffs, said Northwood started a youth football program for grades 5-6 in 1997. It added competition for grades 3-4 in 2001.

The Northwood youth teams practice and play games in the fall.

"It's low-key," James said. "We practice on Mondays and Wednesdays and we typically play games on Sundays at local stadiums. We switch around to different local leagues. Right now our fifth- and sixth-graders are in a league with the SLL. Not everybody in that league has tackle football, but we play Lake, Genoa, Gibsonburg, Lakota..."

Morrison said the Maumee Bay Youth Tackle Football League will have height and weight restrictions for certain positions.

"If a fourth-grader is 5-10, 150 pounds and looks like a freshman in high school, he can't carry the ball," Morrison said. "We don't want anybody to get injured."

He added that Maumee Bay Turf, which is co-owned by Morrison and P.J. Kapfhammer, will pay for the teams' equipment initially. Maumee Bay Turf is also building a practice facility at the store's location at 740 S. Stadium Dr.

 

Donnelly to assist
Clay football coach/athletic director Mike Donnelly will serve as a consultant to help train coaches and install a system.

"We're going to try to set up clinics for coaches," Donnelly said. "I'll be involved somewhat, but with me being an athletic director and coaching (at Clay), I will have some time constraints. But, I will be involved. No doubt about that."

The youth teams will practice a couple nights a week, beginning in August.

"Then we'll have a seven- or eight-game schedule," Morrison said. "Mike said we can use Clay's stadium for games."

Donnelly said he is in favor of promoting youth football in Oregon, "as long as we go about it in the right way and do it in the best interest in the kids."

"Brad has promised to keep me involved and in the loop," Donnelly said. "He wants to build it for part of the entire Oregon football program. I think this will be done right and it won't be some fly-by-night operation. He'll run it first class and the kids will come first."

James said Northwood's youth football program has had as many as 60-80 participants in grades 3-6.

"Nowadays kids have a lot more available distractions, for lack of a better term," James said. "You don't want to burn them out on (football). That's one of the things you have to be cautious with. We want to keep it fun and teach them fundamentals. The danger is if kids aren't successful at that age, you can lose them and they won't want to play anymore.

"You have to keep it fun and find a balance between teaching them fundamentals and keeping it fun. It's worked out well for us. We'll have 15-20 kids on a team. This year we had just one third-grade team and one fourth-grade team. Some years we'll have three or four teams, and one year we'll have a fifth-grade team and a sixth-grade team. Right now we have 20 freshmen who will be sophomores next year, and that's the same number we had when those kids were in fourth grade."

James said one positive for getting kids to start football at such an early age was that those kids had an advantage once they got to high school. The Rangers had as many as six freshmen start on the varsity squad in 2009.

"It helps us stay consistently competitive," James said. "Kids in high school are able to play a little bit quicker, and we're a little deeper. And for a program our size, that makes all the difference."

For more information on the Maumee Bay Youth Tackle Football League, go to www.maumeebayturf.com and click on the Youth Football icon.