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Community bonding over football

THE DALLES Youth Flag Football player Quincy Townsend (left) feinds handoff while quarterback Kade Wilson (with ball) gets set to make a pitch to Styles DeLeon in a game last season at Wahtonka Fields. TDYF has extended signups for flag football to Aug. 21 at midnight for any first-and-second grade boys and girls.

THE DALLES Youth Flag Football player Quincy Townsend (left) feinds handoff while quarterback Kade Wilson (with ball) gets set to make a pitch to Styles DeLeon in a game last season at Wahtonka Fields. TDYF has extended signups for flag football to Aug. 21 at midnight for any first-and-second grade boys and girls. Kelly DeLeon/Contributed photo

Count out how many National Football League athletes got their start in flag football, and the list is endless.

It is at that level where they achieve some basic knowledge of the game to get them to the highest level of professional sports.

Although only a small number of today’s athletes get the opportunity to play in the professional ranks, the emphasis of The Dalles Youth Football is on giving these kids ages 5 through7 an outlet and opportunity to enjoy top gains and make a jump into the high school varsity ranks.

It all starts with knowledge, sharpening skills and repetition through games and practices that will breed a better overall player.

The Dalles Wahtonka football coach Steve Sugg is a big proponent of that sentiment.

“By teaching those kids the basic fundamentals of the game at a young age, it helps them feel more confident in their abilities as they get older,” Sugg said. “It takes the fear factor or apprehension out of the picture because they have already experienced it at a young age and they will be more confident to expand on their abilities as they get older.”

The Dalles Youth Football Organization has announced signups for the flag football program open for children in the first and second grades for play, tentatively for a September 7 start.

The original deadline set by the program was July 31, but due to extended baseball seasons and other issues, TDYF administrators decided on moving the date forward a little later than the tackle season.

Fees for flag football season are set at $40 and while there may be additional in-person dates in the works, all signups will be through www.tdyfootball.com.

Football coach and board member, Nick DeLeon, is hoping that new life is breathed into this burgeoning program, now in its second season.

He is hopeful that the popularity of the sport grows from year-to-year.

“If you’re able to work with kids at a young age and start developing good habits early, that’ll help pave a structurally sound road in the future,” said DeLeon. “If you’re able to start the kids young, it saves coaches at the upper levels the extra time to teach these kids the As, Bs and Cs of football.”

Another aspect of trying to breed a love of the game at an early age is the fact that many surrounding area programs are ahead of the curve in developing young talent in similar programs.

If TD cannot cement that notion into the athletes and parents, then it would make the ability to compete with some of the upper echelon programs that much more daunting.

“You look anywhere in the metro areas or in the valley, and they are starting kids in kindergarten, and in pads,” DeLeon added. “While we cannot offer a tackle program that young in our area, we can at least teach them some basics of the game and positions that’ll help take the weight off of coaches at the next level.”

He added that youth football also poses as an alternative to soccer, but it also does not conflict with soccer, which means that kids can do both sports during the fall as games are played on different days.

Current The Dalles Wahtonka defensive coordinator Rich Belanger says the youth program is the lifeline for high school teams.

“We are working to build a solid curriculum that provides fun and fundamentals of the game of football, while teaching the athlete the benefits of involvement in the game of football on and off the field at a young age,” he said. “It is skill development, safety, and fun participation within the game that is the backbone, and vital to a successful high school program.”

On Monday, Aug. 12, the tackle program starts its practices.

Starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, the league kicks off its annual jamboree with teams all around the gorge attending.

Flag practices begin on Aug. 26 and the season is scheduled to begin on September 7 at Sid White Field in The Dalles.

For more information on the league, e-mail tdyfootball@gmail.com or call the offices at 541-340-6610.

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