PUNXSUTAWNEY — Right around 6 o'clock Mon- day night, the storm clouds came rolling into Punxsutawney, and as a lightning bolt flashed in the distance, approximately 75 kids ran for cover at the practice field for the A.J. Parise Youth Football program.
Fortunately, the thunder and lightning blew over, and the teams were able to begin practice just a few minutes late.
The teams, led by Dave Bosak and his volunteer coaching staffs, went through a variety of drills in preparation for their season-opening regular season games Saturday at Prospect.
With 75 kids, almost 20 coaches and plenty of parents turning out in this kind of weather, one thing is quite evident: These kids love their football.
"I give these kids and their parents credit for coming out here every night," Bosak said. "The first three weeks we practice Monday through Friday, and during the season we still practice Monday through Thursday. It's just like in high school. To improve in this sport, you have to practice. Repetition is important."
Punxsy plays in the ABC Youth Football League, which spans geographically from DuBois to Grove City and has a total of 14 teams.
Punxsy will open the season at Prospect this Saturday. The Bantam Division will kickoff at 9:30 a.m., the Jr. division at 10:45 a.m. and the Sr. division at 12:45 p.m. Punxsy will host Brockway the following weekend to open its home schedule.
The regular season runs through October, with playoffs ending Nov. 5.
Asked why he became involved with the youth football program when it began, Bosak cites a love for the game.
"I've been a part of this since it started," he said. "This will be my 12th year. Joel Martin, Jim Kachmar and Kenny Bishop have all been with me from the start, but each year I get about 18 coaches to help me out. Many of those years, some of us haven't even had kids involved in it. I just love the sport. I played sports growing up, and I'm just trying to pass something on to the kids."
The game itself isn't the only thing Bosak and his coaches are trying to pass on to the kids, though.
"I tell the parents and the kids, 'Effort means opportunity,'" he said Monday before practice. "'What you do on the practice fields is what happens on game day. The harder you work here, the more opportunities you get on the field. There can only be eleven kids on the field at one time, so you've got to do your work to earn your time.' That's one of the lessons I try to teach the kids."
Though some question such young kids playing football, Bosak believes the kids are learning life lessons and ensures that he and his staff are doing all they can to maximize the kids' safety, as well.
"These kids are in about $400 worth of equipment," he said. "We provide everything but their spikes for them: Helmets, shoulder pads, hip pads, anything we can put on them, we do. It's no worse than riding a bike. I've seen kids take face diggers on their bikes. The risk is no different. We do all that we can to keep them safe."
Teaching the kids the fundamentals of the game is a key element at the A.J. Parise practices, and knowing the fundamentals plays an important role in keeping the kids safe, as well. Knowing how to block, tackle and avoid tackles the proper way makes the game safer for the kids.
"I think we hand over kids that know how to play football," Bosak said. "They know how to tackle and block. Those are important parts of what we teach them here."
Punxsy took part in a six-team scrimmage over the weekend, and Bosak said the kids were excited to play against other kids, but what they are really gearing up for is the first regular season contest this weekend.
The youngest division, the Bantam Division, plays its games for exhibition, giving the kids an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of the game and grow familiar with the plays, but the Jr. and Sr. divisions are competing to make playoffs. Bosak and his coaches have high hopes entering the season.
"I'm proud of our program, because we're not all about winning. We do want to be competitive, though," he said. "We'll show up and play football, and we'll be competitive."