By Keith Mills
Early Saturday morning, when most were sleeping in after a long work week, Scott Milligan was cruising over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on his way from Easton to Owings Mills for his first visit to the Ravens’ training complex. It was everything as advertised.
"This is awesome," Milligan said, sitting in the Ravens' radio and television studio waiting for a meeting about improving youth football in Maryland. "I am a Ravens [permanent seat license] holder, and it's everything I heard it was … just like a castle."
Milligan was at the "castle" along with 20 other presidents and commissioners of the state's youth football leagues, who gathered for USA Football's Maryland State Leadership Forum.
"We want to make sure we're measuring the game not by wins and losses but by how many kids come back and play next year," Rick Peacock said. "That's our message."
Peacock is the south region manager of USA Football, the country's governing body of amateur football. He runs the Anne Arundel Youth Football Association, along with Josh Roach.
"Right now, football is the greatest game going out there," Peacock said. "But Maryland is a very fragmented state in terms of youth football. We all have issues -- funding, facilities. But instead of discussing our differences, we want to talk about what we have in common and how we can make each of our leagues better together."
There are 23 youth football leagues in Maryland (a half-dozen in the Baltimore area alone) with more than 30,000 kids ages 6-14. Many go on to high school football, and, thanks to coaches who are in it for the right reasons, the experience for players is positive.
"Our job is to promote the love of the game," said Craig White, president of the Harford-Baltimore County Youth Football League. "We want to give the kids a chance to do something other than sit in front of the PlayStation."
White's league is one of the biggest in the country with 357 teams and more than 7,000 players. There are 21 teams in the Federal Division of the 7-9 age group alone.
"We are constantly growing and expanding, and that goes back to the Ravens coming to town," White said.
Since the Ravens arrived in Baltimore, the organization has spent a tremendous amount of time and money promoting high school and youth football. From Brian Billick's coaching clinics, to the new complex at Polytechnic, to the new uniforms purchased for city schools two years ago, to opening their doors to youth coaches all over the state, Steve Bisciotti, Dick Cass, Kevin Byrne and the Ravens have continued their commitment to area amateur football. Art Modell began it 13 years ago when he moved the Browns to Baltimore.
"Every time I go to our president, Dick Cass, and ask, 'Can we do this for this youth group or do that for USA Football?' I am never turned down," said Damone Jones, the Ravens' coordinator of youth marketing and promotions. "As long as it positively serves the community."
Jones is a former All-State football player out of Central High School in Philadelphia who played offensive tackle for Joe Paterno at Penn State. He also played in the prestigious Big 33 high school all-star game in 1999 between Ohio and Pennsylvania and is well aware of the value of youth football in the community. He is also aware of some of the problems it faces.
"There are a lot of things the parents of these kids are unaware of," Jones said. "This gives us an opportunity to bring in all of the leaders of the state to discuss the issues. We have the facilities for it, so why not? It gives us input on the rules and regulations and background checks. USA Football is really pushing background checks."
Like most youth coaches, Milligan got involved because he had a son playing and he wanted to impact young athletes in his area.
"I got involved about eight years ago," said Milligan, who, along with Tom Torrence, runs the Talbot County Youth Football League. "My son was just starting to play, and there were some things I thought needed some help. Long term, I wanted to teach kids how to play football, how to be great teammates and further their life skills."
That is the mission for most adults who coach youth football -- mentor the kids and teach them the right way to play. But there is a small percentage of coaches and a larger percentage of parents who have lost perspective of what the mission is and have crossed the line. The line between supporting children and placing too much emphasis on winning and in-your-face aggression has been blurred, creating a major problem.
"We have one simple philosophy -- play football," said Bill Casagrande, president of the Mid-Atlantic Unlimited Youth Football Association. "We don't tell our kids to ‘protect the house’ or get in another kid’s face. All we want is our kids to play football."
Casagrande began the first unlimited football league in 1995 in the Baltimore area, and it has been a huge success. It serves young middle school boys who are too heavy for the 165-pound weight class, yet want to learn the game.
Hundreds of players from the MUYFA have gone on to play high school football, and dozens have played or are playing in college. They include Calvert Hall's Lou Lombardo, who played at Maryland; Gilman's Mike Faust, who went on to Virginia Tech; and Broadneck's Ben Gabbard, who is playing now at Navy.
"When I started the league I looked around to see why some of these other states are so successful in high school football," Casagrande said. "Like Ohio and Pennsylvania. … Pennsylvania has a great middle school program for unlimited kids. That's what I tried to do here."
And it has worked. The MUYFA now features teams in Baltimore, Howard County, Severn and Salisbury. Yet for all the good that leagues like the MUYFA or the Metro Baltimore Pop Warner League can do, there are some issues that simply defy logic.
Some coaches hold team walk-throughs for 8-year-olds and mandatory film sessions for 10-year-olds. Others preach a take-no-prisoners approach to the game that creates an atmosphere of bravado and over-aggressiveness that often results in even more aggression among parents.
This past summer, a team was suspended from a league in Baltimore for an entire season for holding an illegal practice before the Aug. 1 start date. It's because of situations like those that Peacock and USA Football held their first statewide forum last year and followed it up last Saturday at the Ravens’ training complex.
"Obviously, we talk a lot about controlling the parents, the coaches and assistant coaches and the way they conduct themselves," Peacock said. "They take what they see on Saturdays and Sundays in the NFL and college football and apply it to what their sons do on Saturday mornings, and that's a big problem. We need to control that situation on the field."
Unfortunately, "controlling" the situation on the field has become as important to league presidents as teaching how to block and tackle and how to win and lose.
Last December, the Baltimore Westport Patriots and their parents were kicked out of their hotel at Disney World for fighting with a team from Hawaii after the Patriots won the Under-15 Pop Warner Super Bowl Championship.
Aaron McCown, a coach for the Baltimore Old Towne Gators, is in a Charles County detention center after allegedly pulling a gun on a referee in a Pee Wee league game in the Aspen Hill section of Montgomery County. He was charged with second degree assault, reckless endangerment and possession of a handgun by a convicted felon.
That took place just a few days before 46-year-old Wayne Derkotch of Philadelphia was arrested for pulling out a gun on a coach during a game because his son wasn't getting enough playing time. The game was played between 5- and 6-year-olds.
"Background checks are a big issue," Peacock said. "We all have to deal with aggressive parents and predators on the field."
"You have a lot of parents who use their kids as a bragging point, but it's not unique to just football,” White said. “Unfortunately, many of these parents look at the kids as the next LaDainian Tomlinson, the next superstar, without realizing most of the kids won't come close to that. Adults try to live vicariously through their kids. Let's try and keep the parents out of the mix and just let the kids play."
Again, that is the mission -- and for the most part it is mission accomplished. More young players than not are moving on to high school ball with the game in perspective and a knowledge of the fundamentals of football.
"We've got our work cut out for us, but obviously we are all here to talk about ways to make it better," Peacock said. "I see this as an opportunity for coaches to make a positive impact on kids. If taught properly, football is the greatest game there is because it really teaches life lessons. It's about kids digging in and becoming better young men."
"It's about impacting kids," Milligan said. "We want kids to walk away with a big smile on their face, knowing they were a part of something important."
ERIN BROOKS, SETON KEOUGH
RUN TO VICTORY
It has been three weeks since Seton Keough's Erin Brooks set a record by winning four individual events in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland indoor track and field meet. Brooks won the 55-meter dash in 7.35 seconds, the 300-meter dash in 42.14, the triple jump in 39 feet, 8.5 inches and the long jump in 17-5.75. Both the triple jump and long jump are meet records.
That performance led the Gators to the team championship over McDonogh and helped
Brooks deal with a devastating death in her family.
Brooks' cousin, Maryland Transportation Authority police officer Courtney Brooks, died after being struck by a hit-and-run driver. The incident took place New Year's Eve on Interstate 95 near the Inner Harbor. Courtney Brooks was 40 years old and a 13-year veteran of the transportation police.
That tragedy occurred a little more than four years after another of Brooks' cousins suffered a serious injury in a high school football game. Van Brooks was a junior defensive back at Loyola Blakefield in September 2004 when he was paralyzed after making a tackle in a game against Georgetown Prep in Rockville.
Van Brooks was airlifted to Shock Trauma in Baltimore, where doctors performed surgery on a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. He is still in a wheelchair and is now a sophomore at the University of Maryland.
Loyola coach Brian Abbott made Van Brooks an assistant coach during his senior year at the school, and last November Van was the guest of Fran and Jim Smith at a tailgate party in College Park before Maryland played Boston College in football. Brady Smith is a starting defensive end for Boston College and was a teammate of Van's at Loyola.
Now, Erin Brooks, through her marvelous performance in last month's IAAM track and field meet, and her parents, Derrick and Yolanda Brooks, are doing their part in helping the family deal with the trauma.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
In one of the lasting memories of last weekend's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Assocation wrestling championships, McDonogh beat Mount St. Joseph and Archbishop Curley to win its third straight conference championship. But Albert Woody Jr. and Ben Schaufele triggered memories of the old Maryland Scholastic Association tournament 25 years ago.
In 1983, Walbrook's Albert Woody Sr. won the Charles R. Gamper Trophy after being named outstanding wrestler of that year's MSA championships at Poly. One year later, Sean Schaufele earned the same award as a senior at Mount St. Joe when he led the Gaels to the ninth of 22 straight conference championships.
Last Saturday, both Woody Sr. and Sean Schaufele were on hand as their sons won MIAA championships in back-to-back weight classes, 15 minutes apart.
"That is unbelievable," said Schaufele, whose son beat Ben Levin of McDonogh. "It's hard watching your kid. I get more nervous than when I'm wrestling."
Woody Sr. watched with his wife Lena as their son beat Mount St. Joe's Danny Orem before leaving the gym to officiate a junior league wrestling tournament in Dundalk. Lena Woody stayed as her son followed Benny Schaufele to the victory stand in the rare father-son championship double.
"We're proud of him," Lena Woody said. "He's worked very hard."
Rob Bowman was another father who watched his son win his first championship. Bowman is an assistant to head coach Kirk Salvo at Mount St. Joe. His son, Bobby, a Mount St. Joe sophomore, upset McDonogh's Shane Milam to help the Gaels lock up second place in the team standings.
Milam was one of 10 McDonogh wrestlers to make the finals, and seven won championships: Nick Schenk beat Nik Gialamas of Calvert Hall, Woody defeated Orem at 135, Josh Fitch beat Eric Hart of John Carroll at 140, Curtis Holmes beat Fred Green of St. Mary's at 145, Kramer Whitelaw beat Edwin Jackson of Mount St. Joe at 160, Alex Pagnotta beat Ethan Reese of John Carroll at 189, and Doug Schenk beat Drew Simmons of Loyola at 215.
For Fitch, it was his fourth straight MIAA title. He joins Mack Lewnes and Bruce Dulski of Mount St. Joe as the only other four-time MIAA champs.
Brett Przywara (103) and Tyler Scarinzi (125) won titles for Archbishop Curley; Bill Gialamas (112) and Owen Smith (171) won for Calvert Hall, while heavyweight Karl Green joined Schaufele and Bowman on the victory stand for Mount St. Joe.
Issue 3.7: February 14, 2008