When pro football season kicks off this weekend, a few hundred elite players will take the field for NFL games watched by millions of fans.
But they all started somewhere. And for some, like Seattle-born NFL veterans like Corey Dillon, and Eric Metcalf, storied football careers started with youth teams in South Seattle.
Hundreds of boys and girls play football or cheer with the Greater Seattle Youth Football and Cheer League. The League, made up of nine neighborhood teams, mostly in South King County, offers the kids who participate a chance to learn sportsmanship and respect for others, improve their athletic abilities, make life-long friends and be mentored by dedicated members of the local community.
“I love football, it’s in me. It’s part of my life,” Central District Panther 89er’s Coach Shawn Thomas said, echoing the feelings of many other coaches and volunteers I spoke to. “Just giving back is the main thing. And not just giving back and teaching the kid’s football but teaching kid’s life skills.”
Many of the coaches played together as kids and are now coaching their own kids and the kids of their former teammates.
There are four age divisions in the league, Pee Wee (6-7), 89er’s (8-9), Juniors (10-11), and Seniors (12-13).
On game days all four divisions of each team usually play, starting with the Pee Wee’s at 9am and ending with the Seniors playing in the afternoon.
Although the coaches are serious about winning football games, the kids are supposed to have fun too, so during each game everyone gets to play. On some teams that can mean a lot of substitutions.
And with all the buzz about concussions and other football injuries, coaches and volunteers say they take player safety very seriously. But enthusiastic parents and coaches seem to see the benefits of learning life skills and being mentored as far outweighing the risks.
The adults who volunteer their time seem to get a lot out of it as well. CD Panther Assistant Senior Coach Harold Scoggins — who is also Seattle’s fire chief — talks about the importance of getting the kids “to commit to something.”
“Coaching football is about more than just the game,” he said. “It’s about impacting youth during their development.”