BRANDON — Storm coach Dave Ewart might want to start doing some scouting.
The Southern Youth Arena Football League is in the midst of its inaugural season, offering area youngsters an alternative to outdoor spring ball. The league is the brainchild of James Lyle and plays the majority of its games at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex.
"Football is a fall sport so this gives the kids a chance to keep playing in the spring," Lyle said. "It's full contact, so it isn't like just playing flag football in the offseason or pickup games in the neighborhood."
The rules, for the most part, mimic the Arena Football League, and games are played on AFL-sized fields. Lyle hosted a handful of exhibition games indoors the past few seasons at the Tampa Bay Times Forum and with the interest level, realized he could turn it into a full-fledged league.
"Seeing some kids get a chance to play (at the Tampa Bay Times Forum) on a field where the Storm play, kids who had never been to a professional sports event in their life, was really something else," Lyle said. "It made me feel like a kid again."
The eight-team league consists of: Riverview Thunder, East Bay Bucs, South Shore Tide, Brandon Cowboys, South Tampa Seahawks, Lakewood Spartans (St. Petersburg), Wesley Chapel Cowboys and the Manatee Pitbulls. The four divisions are broken down by age and weight.
"It was a good fit for us," Brandon Cowboys athletic director Jason Johnson said. "We were looking to do something with the boys in the spring and this came up. The kids really love it."
Johnson also said the league has provided an opportunity for players with no experience to hopefully make the transition to traditional outdoor football.
"Seven of the 12 kids on my team have never played the game before, and they didn't want to play before, because they thought they would be so behind the other boys," he said. "This gives them a chance to get out there, on a smaller field, and get comfortable with the game."
The championship game for the eight-game season will be held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on June 8. The league has a number of corporate sponsors, including Buddy's Home Furnishing, Sports Authority and Burger King. The league also has partnered with the Storm, providing game tickets and opportunities for meet-and-greets with members of the AFL team.
"We are proud to be a part of the Southern Youth Arena Football League," said Jeff Gooch, former Buccaneer and current Storm vice president of football operations. "It's a great experience and gives the kids an opportunity to learn the game of arena football."
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]