Football Niagara launches flag football
With the launch of Football Niagara Flag Football, the Niagara Regional Minor Football Association is getting ahead of the game.
“Football Canada has a mandate in either 2021 or 2022 to reduce full-squad, full-contact football for the age group under-13. Our full squad, full contact will be reduced any ways,” said NRMFA St. Catharines director Jim Storin. “We decided to get a jump on things and start offering flag from age five right on up to age 18 with our focus being on the five- to 14-year-olds.”
Storin is co-convenor of the league along with Vince Angelini.
“Reducing concussions are a part of the Football Canada mandate but it is more about the development of the athlete overall,” he said. “If you look at the long-term development of an athlete, having kids banging heads at the age of eight years old actually has more of an effect when they are 19 rather them than learning the fundamentals in a non-contact way.
“It is just a physical development thing.”
Storin has been pleased with the initial response to Football Niagara Flag Football with more than 80 kids already registered as of last week.
“Obviously we would like to see more and we will take what we can get,” Storin said. “It is our first venture in flag and working with Burlington Minor Football Flag has been a tremendous benefit for us.”
Burlington has provided Niagara with rule books and put the local association in touch with the Southern Ontario Touch Football Officials Association, whose members will officiate the games.
“The ball is rolling,” Storin said.
The goal for the first year is to get the program started with at least four teams at each age group.
“We are pretty much there,” he said.
The age groups are tyke (5-7), atom (8-10), peewee (11-12) and bantam (13-14). The league is planning to run a five-on-five format with hopes of having 10 players on each team.
There are also hopes to run seven-on-seven for varsity-aged players.
All the games and practices will be staged Saturday mornings at the turf field at Westlane Secondary School in Niagara Falls. It will start April 18 at 8 a.m. for tykes and atoms. Forty-five minute practices will be followed by games. When they are done, the peewees and bantams will practice and play their games. The season will run until near the end of June.
“The ultimate goal is to be like Burlington flag football where we have 1,200 kids registered,” Storin said, with a smile.
He is encouraging parents to sign their kids up for the program.
“It’s non-contact so there’s no fear or any physical contact which obviously dramatically reduces the chance of injuries and we will be teaching the fundamentals of the game of football in a non-contact environment,” he said. “They will learn how to run, throw, catch, cover in a defensive format and how to get to tackle without actually making a tackle. All of those are very important.
“It is going to be a fun and competitive environment.”
Registration is $150 which includes game jersey, flags, insurance and a season-ending tournament. The local football association is a non-profit group that has been running since 1999 and all the money earned goes directly back to the kids in some shape or form.
Football Niagara Flag Football will be holding a free learn to play tournament for kids ages 5-14 on April 8 at Youngs Sportsplex in Welland. The event will include music and a barbecue. To register visit www.footballniagara.com.
Football Niagara Flag Football is also looking for parents and high school students in need of volunteer hours to help out the program. Training will be provided.
The addition of flag football to the association comes at the same time as the group joining the Ontario Football Alliance as a full member.
“Previously, only our Niagara Generals (travel teams) were part of the alliance but this year we were approached by the OFA to incorporate our entire organization instead of cherry picking,” Storin said. “All of our flag football, all of our summer minor tackle and our Niagara Generals is now entirely covered by the Ontario Football Alliance.”
The membership has insurance benefits and, more importantly, all the coaches will be certified for safe contact and registered with the OFA.
“It just adds an extra level of credibility and resources and we can utilize all the resources that the OFA and Football Canada have to offer,” Storin said.
Being part of the OFA also allows Football Niagara Flag Football to take part in sanctioned provincial championships.
“If they are successful there, they could move on to national championships,” he said.
Niagara will participate in a regional tournament on the weekend of July 4 in London.
“Not every kid is going to want to go, but for those that want to go we will form some teams, maybe throw some Niagara Generals jerseys on them and away we go.”