YCFL gears up for season

YCFL gears up for season
September 04
00:00 2014
(pictured above:  Some of the more than 200 kids who take part in the Union Baptist Church Youth Character Football League.)

The zesty sounds of trumpets fill the air as the iconic “NFL on Fox” theme song echoes throughout the building. Everyone’s attention focuses on the opened doors at the entrance to the sanctuary. A sizable contingent of school-aged boys and girls pour through the doors and march down the center aisle amid cheers, applause and flashing cameras.

Welcome to Draft Day for the Union Baptist Church Youth Character Football League.

Over the years, the draft has become a signature event. It’s a day in which every league participant gets to experience his or her moment in the spotlight. Players from each team, along with the cheerleaders, flag girls and members of the drum line are recognized in much the same manner as the college players selected in the annual pro football draft.



“Draft Day gives every youngster in our league the opportunity to experience what it feels like to be a professional,” said the Rev. Sir Walter Mack Jr., Union Baptist pastor. “Young people tend to act the way you treat them. So, we treat them as a priority. As a result, they learn to treat community as a priority.”

In 2009, YCFL came on the scene as an alternative. Up to that time, all the other youth leagues in Winston-Salem had mandated weight limits for every age group. YCFL was unique in that there were no weight restrictions for the players. Now in its fifth year, the league has over 200 participants who represent four organizations – Sanctuary Saints, Elite Eagles, Judah Lions and Christian Colts.
The Youth Character Football League (ages 5-14) provides an avenue for players who were denied the chance to play in other leagues because of their weight. Since there’s no middle school football in Forsyth County, the heftier youngsters couldn’t play organized football until high school. In the past, the bigger kids found themselves at a severe disadvantage by the time they reached high school because they had no prior playing experience. Playing in the YCFL enables them to learn the game at an early age, which greatly enhances their chances of playing high school ball.

YCFL gets a big boost from several area high schools. Coaches from Mount Tabor, North Forsyth and East Forsyth frequently share their expertise, so that YCFL coaches can teach their players the techniques that help young athletes in their development as high school players of the future.

While football is the vehicle the league uses to aid in a youngster’s overall development, it’s not the main thrust. All YCFL participants are required to attend huddle sessions on character, academics, leadership and sportsmanship.

“Winning has its place, but we keep it in the proper perspective,” said Kia Hood, YCFL Director. “In our league, everybody is the MVP, everybody grows and everybody wins. The chief focus is on character. When you build character, you build self-esteem. When you build self-esteem, you build a future in the mind of that youngster.”

Coach Laymarr Marshall of Mount Tabor understands the benefits of YCFL as it relates to player development. But the true value of the program, he said, goes beyond what his coaching staff teaches YCFL coaches about blocking and tackling techniques.

“The league really helps the bigger kids develop, but there’s so much more to it,” said Marshall, the keynote speaker for this year’s Draft Day. “Yes, it takes talent, but these young players need more than X’s and O’s. Football is the greatest game in the world because it teaches so many life lessons. What they learn will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”

YCFL’s season kicked off with last week’s Little Labor Day Classic & Jamboree played at Winston-Salem Prep, home of the original Atkins High School. The league has played at that location since its inception. There’s a family connection to the field and a bit of irony too.

Rev. Mack’s father, Sir Walter Sr., former pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church, attended Atkins in the mid-1940s and served as the football team’s chaplain. “My Dad wanted to play football but was too small,” the younger Mack recalled. “He started preaching when he was 12 years old, so he became the designated one to lead the team in prayer. As things turned out, the same field that my father prayed on around 70 years ago, is the same field that YCFL plays on today.”

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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