By Angelica Acevedo
Sportsmanship. Safety. Education. Family.
These are just some values that the Whitepoint Youth Football League strives to impart in their players. The youth league has served the Queens community for 20 years and beyond teaching gridiron skills, teaches life lessons, according to league president John McArdle.
“The thing that we promote the most here is that we want to turn these kids into good young football players, but it’s more important that they become good young men,” McArdle told TimesLedger.
The in-house league has 30 teams with more than 400 kids, including a recent cheer squad addition to the program. They play two seasons — in the spring they play flag football and in the fall they play tackle football.
Football is one of the most physical sports out there, with safety concerns surrounding research documenting the physical and mental harm that the contact sport may cause its players in the long run.
To combat this stigma, McArdle and his coaches undergo USA Football certifications and teach their players, who are between the ages of five and 13, to practice with the NFL’s Heads Up Tackling program in mind .
McArdle says that the players have seldom received major injuries — there was only one concussion last year, which occurred during a flag football game. Additionally, other players have had to miss games due to injuries from other sports they play throughout the year, such as basketball.
“[In flag football] there’s a lot less contact but it’s the same game, it’s just without a pad and less kids on the field,” he said.
Shannon Olari has two kids in the league, and one of them, Aidan, is an assistant coach. She encourages parents to witness for themselves how they teach the kids.
“They’re taught not to hit in the way you can hurt somebody — they’re taught to hit to play the game,” she said.
Olari said that in addition to the sports-related skills Whitepoint teaches them, the kids also learn how to stand up for each other and volunteer in the community.
Aidan, 12, said that he enjoys teaching the younger kids the ropes as an assistant coach. In his eight years of playing for Whitepoint, he’s never suffered an injury.
“It’s because of all the practices and all the things that the coaches help you do,” he said. “They teach you how to keep your head up, where to place your hands, where to put your shoulder, all that stuff.”
Although the parents and kids feel safe enough, Whitepoint coaches don’t shy away from the reality of possible injuries occurring on the field.
Tracy Friedman, vice president of the league, began volunteering after he saw the positive impact it had on his son, Benjamin. He talked about their King-Devik concussion protocol. This is a test that they have their players take at the start of each season, in order to effectively screen concussions that players might suffer during a game.
“If something happens in the game… they take their test again,” Friedman said. “If there’s a discrepancy, the kid sits out and we alert their parents that they should take him to see someone.”
He also explained that during their practices, they breakdown the lessons into four different levels of contact: demonstrating against air; using a dummy; the “thud” method where they teach players to go into one another, but not to bring each other down; and the contact level.
“Years ago, a lot of people had this image of football just being contact, contact, contact. They’ve changed that,” Friedman said.
Friedman’s son, Benjamin, is graduating from the league and will attend Bayside High School in the fall. Benjamin was awarded the McCutchen Award, named after the league’s founder, for exemplifying sportsmanship, respect, hard work and dedication.
“I’m humbled because I didn’t think I was going to get it,” Friedman said.
He’s also a long-time player and said “nothing else matters” whenever he plays football.
Friedman said the league is working on developing a tutoring program with the help of high school students in the various schools that they have a relationship with, including St. Francis Prep and Holy Cross.
Whether it was a coach, a player or a parent, Whitepoint members stressed the family values that keep them tight-knit.
Anastasia Volk, a mother with an 11-year-old son in the league, said everyone supports each other in the league.
“I have every confidence in all the coaches and there’s definitely a wonderful family atmosphere here,” she said. “The kids on the field can knock each other down but they’ll pick each other up even if they’re on an opposing team.”
Preparing the kids for high school football may be the number one priority for the league. But emphasizing a good education is a close second.
“We promote being respectful and being coachable,” McArdle said. “We don’t allow unsportsmanlike stuff here. We don’t allow kids who come here with bad reports from school to play either.”