Traditionally spring means baseball for a lot of kids. Though all across Florida this spring, more kids are crossing the line of scrimmage than home plate.
The Florida Spring Youth Football League was started by Sandy Beckett, who operates the league by himself. Beckett saw poor organization in previous spring leagues his sons played in and decided to do something about it.
"I have three sons and they used to play in other sports in the spring, but only because they had to," Beckett said. "The spring leagues that were here before weren't very good, so I decided to do a spring football league. I started locally, but it didn't take long to spread. Once I made a Web site, I started getting requests from all over the place to let people register teams."
The league started in Tampa, and now stretches as far as New Smyrna Beach and Fort Myers. Within the next year, Beckett plans to spread throughout the state and even into Alabama.
"I'm just trying to formulate what basically looks like a bunch of franchises where everyone operates on their own," Beckett said. "Ideally you want to run these things regionally. I don't currently have enough teams to have the teams play all local games, but eventually if we can get it up to 300 or 400 teams and everyone just plays in their region, then we can have a really good season. Next year, I'm anticipating 5,000 kids to participate statewide."
Coaches, parents and players alike have to be concerned, however, that if the spring league does continue to grow, it could burn kids out on the sport.
"It's good because the kids aren't out on the streets and getting in trouble," Land O'Lakes Chargers coach Dewey Robinson said.
"The risk we have to realize is burnout vs. developing the kids as players. Sure we can develop them as players better because they're playing two seasons a year, but kids still need time to be kids. My son played three consecutive years and finally just had to stop. He took some time off to try other things and now he's back into the game and better than ever, but for a while he got burned out."
Mike O'Brien is one of the Chargers' leading parents and feels the league can't do anything but good for the kids involved for several reasons, particularly the 8-vs.-8 format the league uses.
"It's a burden for some families financially, but it's worth it because the teams are smaller and the coaches can spend more time with the kids," O'Brien said. "Sometimes we have only nine or 10 kids, so they have to play multiple positions in a game. Our boys play both ways, so I think they learn more."
As for Beckett growing the league further, it won't be long before the FSYFL is a major force to be reckoned with.
"There are a lot of people in Florida whose kids could be starving, but they still have to play football," Beckett said. "The enthusiasm for the sport down here is unbelievable. In this economy, you'd think people wouldn't want to spend the money to do these type things, but people feel their kids have to play sports. Plus, the more the schools fail with athletics, the more you'll see these types of things happening."
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