An upstart youth football organization, borne from the merger of two existing leagues, plans to offer competitive, flag and cheer divisions without the traditional time and fundraising needs this fall.
The Southern Arizona Youth Football league hopes to attract parents like Marana’s Paul Acosta, who value a weekend evening off from coaching duties as much as they regard the gridiron’s life lessons.
“That’s the last thing we all wanted to do,” Acosta said. “Friday night, hard week of work, now we’ve got to go to practice and spend a couple hours out there.”
Acosta’s 11-year-old son, Benny, played running back this year during the Southwest Youth Sports football season, and in 2007’s revamped Southern Arizona Pop Warner league, which vied to penetrate Tucson Youth Football’s lock on the local market.
While Acosta said both leagues offered quality experiences, their organizers decided to fold the two leagues together after realizing their products overlapped.
To compete in a local market that draws over 300 kids annually to TYF’s Marana Broncos and Oro Valley Dolphins organizations alone, the new league’s youth football director Don Swan hopes to deliver a league that focuses on fun, rather than politics or finances.
“That’s been my passion, working for the kids,” Swan said. “The families and the kids aren’t joining sports for the political aspect of it.”
A 20-year veteran of Arizona youth sports leagues, including TYF and the YMCA, Swan said he hopes to bridge the gap between the area’s ultra-competitive and recreational youth leagues, after spearheading Pop Warner’s return from a local five-year absence.
The league will kick off in late August to avoid a few weeks’ worth of heat and clashes with the new school year. Weight restrictions between divisions have been loosened, rather than stunt larger kids’ self-esteem, as well.
“How much is a 10-year-old that’s athletically inclined going to weigh?” Swan posed. “It’s not too far-fetched.”
Swan said his idea of taking Friday nights off from practice scores an easy touchdown with busy parents he’s talked to, like Acosta.
On those nights, Swan hopes his players will wear their jerseys to local high school games and focus on the next level, rather than farming premature dreams of NFL stardom.
While his league has already locked up playing fields with local middle schools, Swan envisions his squads as high school-feeder programs that sport local logos, like the Tigers and the Mountain Lions, rather than the Patriots or the Jets.
“The big thing is to get the kids to look up to the high school level. Don’t look past it, because it’s next,” he said.
What chaps Swan is the “pyramid scheme” of fundraising for national youth organizations. Parents shouldn’t have to hit the sidewalks and pass the helmet for funds that will leave the area, he explained — though they’ll be free to raise money as they choose.
It’s an idea that begs cost cuts, if the league will realize Swan’s goal of recruiting 500 kids across town during the first year.
Part of the solution for Swan and Tucson attorney Pete Balsino, who spent last season as Pop Warner’s vice commissioner, is to eliminate national competition and keep the postseason in town.
Besides slashing travel expenses, locally oriented playoffs eliminate a perceived need to scout other markets’ players, restoring the family fun aspect for kids like his 11-year-old son, Taylor.
“It’s just one problem on another that just keeps building, in my opinion,” Balsino said. “To take on that commitment when you’re not a so-called football family, people are taken aback by that completely.”
Register for Southern Arizona Youth Football at the following times and places:
Peter Piper Pizza
Ina and Thornydale roads
• Tuesday, June 3, 5 to 7 p.m.
• Saturday, June 14, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Saturday, June 28, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Saturday, July 19, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
COST: $120-150 for tackle, $65 for flag and cheer