The division Dewayne Bickers’ kid should’ve been participating in for Rancho Bernardo Pop Warner for two straight seasons simply did not exist. There were insufficient players to create a team.
Jeffrey Bickers, an 11-year-old sixth-grader, rather competed in a higher category with older guys.
“There was sometimes a very substantial disparity in the ages and class grades and athletics,” Dewayne Bickers said. “I could see his and some of the other kids’ frustrations at times.”
When the same situation arose again this autumn due to a shortage of enrolment, Bickers began exploring alternatives. It was in flag football that he discovered it. In particular, in a brand-new league.
“We encouraged him to maintain his skill sets because he has a love of football,” said Bickers, who also coaches a squad. “It’s been a huge amount of joy and fun for us.”
Although youth tackle football participation is slowly declining, flag football is on the rise. According to USA Football, the body that regulates youth football in the United States, the number of youngsters aged 6 to 14 who play flag increased by almost 9% in 2016.
Flag football is offered locally through Pop Warner and American Youth Football, but exclusively for children aged 7 and up. New leagues are springing up that accept children from elementary school to junior high, with intentions to expand to high school.
Carlsbad and Del Mar were the first cities to have Friday Night Lights leagues. Following his experience with FNL on the coast, David Arnold of Poway chose to construct a league in Rancho Bernardo Community Park two years ago.
He’s the commissioner now, and his two children, who are eleven and nine respectively, both play.
“We went to a Pop Warner game with my son and realized it wasn’t something we wished to do,” Arnold explained. “After speaking with the commissioner of Friday Night Lights, we decided that this neighborhood was desperate for it.”
Arnold said the inland FNL started with around 12 teams two years ago, expanded to 23 teams this autumn, and is anticipating up to 40 teams to compete in the spring.
“It’s developing so quickly because it’s continuous and fast-paced,” Arnold explained. A typical squad consists of eight children, with six on the field at any given time. Three 10-minute quarters must be played by each youngster. In every game, the field is 50×28 yards, and everyone is qualified to run or catch.
Aside from the time on the field and the lack of tackling, the flag offers a number of other significant advantages: The games run within an hour, and there is only one session each week, making it more acceptable for working youngsters and parents.
Another thing that will appeal to children is stylish uniforms. The various departments of the FNL potentially represent collegiate or professional football teams. The Chargers aren’t in the mix, but Bickers’ team from San Diego State is.
He remarked, “I’m a big homer. Every game begins with the ‘I Believe…’ shouts. It’s a hit with both the kids and the adults. It’s fantastic.”