Youth football brings skills, structure back to practice fields
This time last year, the fields behind the middle school were silent as the pandemic canceled the Dartmouth Youth Football League’s 2020 season.
Now, kids are back on the practice gridirons wearing pads, helmets, cleats — and most importantly, not having to play with a mask.
Youth football is back in full in Dartmouth.
“It’s really great to have the kids back outside,” league President Chris Pereira said. “Such a great atmosphere.”
All DYFL divisions, with players ranging from five years old to 14, began preseason training on Aug. 2. From Monday to Thursday, each division is running through basic strength training and drills ahead of its season start.
The league did host a spring season, but it was more limited due to Covid restrictions.
Unlike previous years, Pereira noted that enrollment in the league has increased to 120 players, with some teams near capacity.
“We probably have our highest totals in years,” he said.
12U Coach Sam Blevines said there are “a lot of new kids” on his squad this year and that so far, they have been able to adjust and learn the basics of the game over the few weeks summer practices have been held.
“You can really see them progressing as the days go on,” he said. “They’re doing well.”
Ahead of the league’s first game, Blevins hopes to bolster his team’s blocking and physicality — along with making sure they keep their heads out of the tackle to avoid concussions.
“It’s all about protecting the player,” the coach said.
At the younger end of the league’s spectrum, 6U Coach Ryan Scrima had his players work on conditioning, basic tackles against dummies, and fundamental skills such as catching and handoffs.
“They’re certainly learning,” he laughed.
Scrima’s 6-year-old son Nathan said that he’s enjoyed learning the fundamentals of the game from his father.
“I like football a lot, it’s very important to me and very fun,” he said. “Me and my dad are the only ones to play football in our family.”
Nathan added that he’s been playing since he was three and used to live in Texas.
Teammate Brady Holske, 6, is also enjoying his time. He noted that this is his first year in the league, along with his five-year-old brother Ben.
“I like tackling and handing [the ball] off,” Brady said.
Parent Jade Robles said she appreciates how much structure the youth football league brings.
She noted that this is the first season her son Carter Fay, 7, has gotten involved in.
Since getting started with the U8 team, Robles said it’s made him less energetic around the house.
“I love it, I love it,” she laughed.
Along with young players returning to the gridiron, the league’s cheerleading program — with girls ranging between five and 14 years old — is also in full swing, with 32 girls cheering on the teams.
Assistant cheerleading coordinator Kim Mills said that the girls have been very enthusiastic. She’s really enjoyed seeing the camaraderie and returning faces over her seven years in the program.
“It’s a great activity that gives [girls] a great sense of pride and self esteem,” she said. “It’s just amazing to watch all the progress and watch them grow up.”
The DYFL season is scheduled to kick off Aug. 29, as teams — aside from the the U6 squad — will travel to Portsmouth.
“We’re ready to be back playing football,” Blevines said. “It’s exciting stuff!”