NFL increasing support of youth football with flag program

The NFL is enhancing its commitment to upgrading equipment for youth football organizations, and along with USA Football and GENYOUth will distribute 1 million flag football kits to 2,500 schools nationwide.

Up to $2 million will be earmarked by the NFL to USA Football's equipment grant program. Grants will be distributed based on need, merit and a program's commitment to coaching education and best practices. Recipient programs will redeem such grants through Riddell, the official helmet and protective equipment partner of USA Football.

The grants, made possible through the NFL Foundation, will be valued at up to $1,500 for youth organizations and up to $2,500 for high school programs to provide new and reconditioned equipment, flag football gear and uniforms.

The league has worked with USA Football, the national governing body for the sport, for several years on the grant program.

''I think we have done a better job in the last year or two in measuring its impact and identifying what the needs are in the marketplace,'' said Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president of health and safety policy. ''Additionally, we engaged the Consumer Product Safety Commission about better equipment for youth leagues, and it led us to a more evolved program. We learned through survey research, run by USA Football, that more needs to be done.''

The surveys showed that nearly half of the leagues polled agreed that they don't have sufficient equipment for all youngsters who want to participate in football.

''We had to do a better job of funding the program and targeting those leagues that need the equipment,'' Miller said.

An important element of the upgraded program is the reconditioning of helmets. Roman Oben, who played 12 years in the NFL and now is the league's director of youth and high school football, said for youngsters to have a maximum experience in the sport, proper equipment is essential.

''Typically at the high school level, they pass down to the youth whatever they don't want anymore,'' Oben said. ''This program definitely addresses that need not just for new equipment, but for reconditioned helmets. High schools have larger numbers of participants with varsity teams, junior varsity, etc., than the youth leagues. This stretches the dollar.''

Stretching the dollar in flag football also is on the agenda.

Commissioner Roger Goodell, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alexis Glick, CEO of GENYOUth - a nonprofit that brings together community and business leaders to empower America's youth to achieve a healthier future - will announce that a $1 million grant from the NFL Foundation will provide kits that include footballs, flag belts, posters and a physical education curriculum designed for elementary and middle school students. More than 500,000 youngsters in 1,800 schools were reached last year through NFL FLAG.

This extension of the program should provide 1 million more students with the tools to play flag football.

Schools nationwide may apply, but the NFL and USA Football are focusing on 10 cities: Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Jacksonville, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

''We've been very consistent in saying that flag football is a great entry point,'' Oben said. ''It is football, not an alternative or a consolation prize to tackle. My kids play flag in addition to tackle. It can be coed or girls teams. It maximizes your football experience and can be played into adulthood.''

Pop Warner, the largest youth football, cheer and dance program in the world with approximately 325,000 participants from ages 5 to 16, also is adopting the NFL's flag program.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Online: http://www.USAFootball.com ; http://www.nflflag.com/

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