The NFL wants to boost flag football participation by providing kits to a half-million youngsters.
A program being announced Wednesday by Commissioner Roger Goodell will supply elementary schools and after-school programs nationwide with equipment and instruction. Six cities are targeted as focal points this year: Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Seattle.
Plans are for the Fuel Up To Play 60 initiative in the schools, run in conjunction with the National Recreation and Park Association, which handles the after-school element, to expand nationwide in three years.
''We want to be sure all kids have the chance to `Play 60,' '' Goodell said. ''We know many children have their first experience playing football in flag, and we are proud to support an initiative that will help kids be physically active.''
Funded as part of the league's $45 million commitment to USA Football, the governing body for the sport nationwide, the program is also designed to stress good nutrition and enable youngsters to learn the basics of the sport.
Alexis Glick, CEO of the GENYOUth Foundation, which oversees child health and wellness initiatives, calls Play 60 ''a game changer.''
''When we look at the crisis of inactivity in our schools, there is a desire and the need for these resources,'' Glick said. ''When you look at the school environment, only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools and 3 percent of high schools have daily physical education classes. Where there were 75 percent of students playing outside (in the past), there are 25 percent.
''Our schools so badly need the resources. Give the kids the access and the means, it is helpful every day, it will lead to more physical activity, which is a crucial link with academic performance.
''This will have enormous impact in school districts across the country, districts that need help.''
The kits include 10 footballs, 50 flag belts, a printout of the curriculum, certificates of completion and an NFL Flag poster.
Although Fuel Up To Play 60 is dedicated to making flag football available to children, a potential offshoot could be getting youngsters involved in other sports. The idea is to get them active first, and if this program serves as a model for others, what's bad about that?
Physical activity is not the lone goal of such plans, of course. They emphasize good eating habits, teamwork, commitment and leadership. The program will also serve to recruit new fans.
''They get that first touch point of playing flag football, they understand the game better and they are more engaged in it,'' said Samantha Rapoport, who runs the NFL's flag program for USA Football. '' Now they can watch the sport with their dads and uncles and understand the concepts.''
She notes that is true with the 30,000 girls who participate in flag football - 20 percent of all participants - as well as with the boys.
Does the emphasis on this flag football initiative indicate the NFL is steering youngsters away from tackle, in which participation number have decreased?
Rather, the flag version can enhance the popularity of tackle football with youngsters, according to Jeff Miller, the league's senior VP of health and safety policy.
''The point around this program is the commitment we are making with the schools: Playing NFL Flag in schools as defined by a curriculum is not a competitor for youth tackle football,'' said Miller, whose 7-year-old son is playing flag. ''This is much more like our commitment to keeping kids active and healthy.''
A survey of parents conducted by USA Football showed that 64 percent of the 2.34 million children ages 5-14 that played organized flag football in 2013 plan to play youth tackle football. That works out to about 1.5 million kids.
''If these kids are introduced to our game through flag football,'' Miller concludes, ''some of these kids will go on to play tackle football. Flag is traditionally a terrific entry point.''
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