When Bill Pereicich presented the idea of starting an NFL Flag Football program to Gabe Orengo and the Amsterdam Little Giants’ executive board 10 years, ago, no one could have imagined how popular it would become.
“That first year, we had 35 kids participate,” said Little Giants Executive Director Chris Iorio.
This year, the flag football program had a record 230 children between the ages of 4 and 13 participate, according to flag football league president Tony Bottisti.
“The biggest benefit to the community is it gives kids another option to stay active and stay fit during the summer,” said Bottisti.
What attracts so many young athletes to NFL Flag Football is that everyone gets involved in playing offense and defense. Unlike other forms of youth football, the roles of players are not defined by size. In fact, they are not defined at all.
“Every kid gets an opportunity to play different positions,” said Iorio. “They get to play positions that they don’t usually get an opportunity to play [in tackle football]. We’ve had several linemen from our tackle program play quarterback in flag football, and they do very well.”
“It’s a great sport because it gives them a taste and a feel for the sport,” added Rocco Natale, one of the NFL Flag Football program coaches.
The rules for flag football are the same as you might remember from playing it as a child. Each side is given up to three plays to gain 10 yards and keep the drive going. Each player is given a belt with two long, thin flags attached to it with Velcro. Defenders are not allowed to tackle the ball carrier. They can only reach to pull one of the flags off the ball carrier’s belt. If the defender is successful, the play stops.
“Flag football is mostly offensive,” said Bottisti.
While there is no tackling, many of the plays used in the Little Giants’ flag football games are the same ones you would see during a standard football game. This year, in particular, the league asked its coaches to introduce the option pitch to their players because they saw how much it was being used at the high school levels.
“Flag football is the introduction to football fundamentals,” said Iorio. “The flag football program helps and the tackle football program helps prepare these kids for high school football.”
Regular season games began June 9 with 22 teams in three divisions: Junior (ages 4-7), Senior (ages 8-10) and Pro (ages 11-13). Games were played on Saturdays and Wednesdays at Murray Field, behind Barkley Elementary School. The playoffs began on Saturday, Aug. 18. However, the last championship games will be on the same day as opening day of the Little Giants tackle football season on September 8.
By the time the final championship game takes place, many of the kids playing in the NFL Flag Football program will already be suiting up for the Little Giants’ fall season.
“Especially this year, we’re starting to see a large number of our flag football players take an interest in tackle football,” said Iorio. “Generally, the kids who take part in flag football are better prepared for playing tackle football because they’ve had that introduction to it.”
Photos are from the Broncos 36-18 victory over the Raiders in the Senior Division playoffs Saturday, Aug. 25, at Murray Field.