PUNXSUTAWNEY â€” On Monday morning, the Punxsutawney Chucks get back to practice for the 2013 season. Each Friday, fans of all ages make the trip to Jack F. LaMarca Stadium to cheer on their team. Some of the younger fans dream of the day they can put on the uniform and officially call themselves a "Chuck."
While there are tackle football youth league programs in the area, another league offers an alternative style of play, while still teaching the fundamentals of the game.
The former NFL Flag Football League is back this year, but instead of playing its games at the Walston Ball Field, they will change their name and location.
"We had the league last year and combined with Brookville to have a dual-league with them," one of the league-founders, Paul Hetrick, said. "This year, we just decided to make it more of a community event for our kids and keep it centered in Punxsutawney."
Hetrick, along with Brian Henretta, Chris Savage and Todd Heigley, reached out to Punxsutawney Area Community Center Director Rob McCoy, for his assistance.
Now known as the PACC Flag Football League, home games will be played at Harmon Field in Punxsutawney every Saturday afternoon, starting on Sept. 7.
When thinking about a flag football league, you may think that it's a non-contact sport. Hetrick, however, said he prefers to say it's a non-tackling league.
"There's blocking [at the line], and there's downfield blocking. It still gets physical," Hetrick said. "There's still the elements of football involved, just no tackling."
Last year, over 60 kids participated, and Hetrick is hoping for much of the same this year. His hopes are to draw enough interest to have two different divisions (age 7-9 and 10-12) with four to five teams playing each other.
"We'll just be a Punxsy league playing each other," Hetrick said. "As of now, it's going to be like Little League, where the teams play each other."
The eight-on-eight league will seem similar to Little League, as all of the kids will touch the ball and rotate in at different positions.
"We rotate players all the time. Every kid on the team touches the ball," Hetrick said. "It's more of a youth-based league in that regard. It's fun for them because they know they won't be stuck on the side, and they'll get to be a part of it."
Unlike older levels of football, the PACC Flag Football League is centered around fundamentals and making the kids feel comfortable.
"The big thing is fundamentals," Heigley said. "If the kid didn't want to do something, we didn't force them to do it. It's a matter of their own comfort level."
With all of the men being local residents, they're hoping that they are able to draw interest and shape football players of the future.
"Another goal is to teach some football skills, blocking techniques, terminology and trying to get more kids involved in being active in the community," Hetrick said. "We want to introduce them to football and get more interest in football in the area."
The flag version of youth football is a safer alternative than tackle football, but
Hetrick doesn't view the full-contact Pee-Wee league as a competitor. Instead, he looks at the PACC League as a stepping stone.
"Hopefully, we get kids out to play football with us who are a little intimidated by it [tackling], and once they play and get comfortable, they can move into pads," Hetrick said. "That's the ultimate goal with this. We want to see 50 kids standing on the sidelines playing Punxsy football in a few years. We want to get the numbers up and help the overall football program from bottom to top."
While the teams will play each other during the six-week regular season and the the short playoff day, Hetrick said having a local Super Bowl of sorts has been thrown around in discussion.
"It's been tossed around to have the champion of our league play the champion of Brookville's league," Hetrick said. "We work well enough with them that if it's something we can do and get it thrown together, I think it would be fun. It would be like a Super Bowl between the two towns. It's definitely on the radar."
Running an organized league like this takes a lot of work. In order to have things run smoothly, volunteers will be needed.
Hetrick, Heigley, Savage and Henretta all serve as coaches, but said with the more kids that sign up, the more help will be needed.
"We're the coaches, but we're still looking for more. If we get more players and kids out, then we'll need more help," Hetrick said. "We referee our own games and have some high school students come down to take care of that."
All kids between the ages of seven and 12 are encouraged to sign up for the PACC Flag Football League at the Punxsutawney Area Community Center or online at www.punxsutawneycommunitycenter.org until Aug. 14.
A league fee of $25 per child will go toward jerseys, footballs, flags and other supplies.View more articles in: