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Six-man football offers homeschoolers a chance to compete

The league, and the sport, have proved to be productive and popular outlets for smaller schools.

"It's fun, it's family-friendly and it gives us another way to fellowship with each other," said FISH coach John Catlin. "The sport and the league have just fit in so well with what we're doing here. I've heard so many people say it at the schools we play and for our homeschoolers, this (six-man football) is a community event. It just brings out more people."

FISH, a ministry of Bell Shoals Baptist Church, joins a number of area schools with six-man teams including Hillsborough Baptist in Seffner, Citrus Park Christian, Town 'N Country Nazarene, Academy at the Lakes in Land O'Lakes, Clearwater Lakeside Christian and Brooksville Hernando Christian.

Carrollwood Day School in Tampa started its football program as a six-man team and won the state championship in 2007 before expanding to 11-man football.

The FCAPPS league started in 2005 with six schools. Since then, it has blossomed statewide — despite not being recognized as a sanctioned sport by the Florida High School Athletic Association.

"Football is so big in this area," FCAPPS commissioner Chuck Howard said. "We just thought there was a need for small, private school football. And because of the enrollment numbers and some of the skill levels, six-man football really works for our schools. Plus it gives the small schools a big-time sport."

And FISH, along with Hillsborough Baptist, ranks among the top bay area teams in recent seasons and got off to strong starts again this year. FISH, behind the 1-2 running punch of Duncan and tailback Tim Warren, began the year 6-0 while Hillsborough Baptist won four of its first six games.

"We're a good team," said Catlin, whose team went 8-2 during the regular season and advanced to the state semifinals last season. "Experience has been our biggest advantage. We have 20 kids on the roster and a lot of offensive flexibility so we don't have to depend on one player or one type of offense to be successful."

So just what is six-man football?

It has been called everything from microwave football to fast break basketball on a football field.

The rules pit two teams of six players against each other on a playing field 80 yards long and 40 yards wide. Conventional football utilizes a field 120 yards long and 53 yards wide.

The main difference with the lineup is that offensively, every player is eligible to catch a pass. That leads to wide-open offensive lineups, formations and plays, and a pinball-type pace up and down the field.

Just look at the scores from a recent weekend: 45-44, 52-36, 58-24, 67-57, 54-44, 51-41.

Touchdowns are still six points, but extra points and field goals are a little different. Field goals are worth four points, while a kicked extra point is two points. Running or passing for an extra point from the 3-yard line is worth a point but doing it from the 10-yard line is worth two. And the field-goal crossbar is 9 feet high, instead of the usual 10 feet.

The brand itself dates to the Midwest dust bowl of depression-era America, when schools often did not have enough players for the traditional game. Created in Nebraska in 1934, the sport boomed when it migrated to Texas four years later and remains today in the very fabric of small-town high school football throughout central and southwestern Texas.

But as much growth as the sport has seen in Florida and in the bay area, players and coaches have had to deal with misconceptions about six-man football.

"Some say it's not real football," said Howard, a former school resource officer at Countryside High in Clearwater. "Let me tell you, this is real football. In fact, this is grass roots football, the way it was before football got really big."

Catlin agreed, saying he has had to deal with detractors thumbing their nose at the sport as well.

"If you've never seen it (six-man football), it only takes one time," said Catlin, a longtime youth sports coach in the Brandon area. "It's wide open, it's physical, it's exciting. It's almost like arena football except played outdoors. Plus, it is almost more complex offensively because there is so much you can do in the passing and running games.

"I'd love to see six-man football as respected and recognized in Florida as it is in Texas."

One place where six-man is on par with the traditional game is in the hearts and minds of the players.

Duncan, a homeschooler, was looking to play 11-man football until the FISH program was started. He also found the sport to be his haven after the death of his father last year.

"Even now, there are still tough days," said Duncan, 17. "But this is where I get to let loose, have fun and be with my friends playing football. It's great."

Those life lessons learned from competing and being part of a team are universal, Howard said. Add in the religious element some of the local schools bring to six-man, and the sport helps the schools send a powerful message.

"Personally, I feel it's my calling, my mission," Catlin said. "It's another form of ministry being out here coaching and playing football. And we're focused on teaching these young men life lessons as well as teaching football. In this case, it just happens to be with six players on the field."

Rod Gipson can be reached at hillsnews@sptimes.com.

Six-man football offers homeschoolers a chance to compete 10/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 7, 2011 3:50pm]

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