Youth Football Leagues: Friendly Game Gone Too Far? A NewsWest 9 Special Report

Youth Football Leagues: Friendly Game Gone Too Far? A NewsWest 9 Special Report

by Victor Lopez
NewsWest 9

ODESSA - Every parent wants their child to be involved and excel.  That's especially true in athletics.  That's why so many kids are enrolled in youth leagues, whether it be football, baseball, even soccer.

But, a new reality show, on cable, is ruffling a few feathers. To some, it's painting the world of youth football, in a bad light. NewsWest 9 met with parents and coaches who wanted to set the record straight.

They wanted to address some major issues that the reality show is bringing to light.  First, is the sport safe? Secondly, are our children being treated too much like adults for the sake of a win, when the game should be, all about fun?  

"Some of the coaches are a little extreme, but then you've got the other coaches that do it in a good way," Michael Melton, a local coach and parent, said.

"Friday Night Tykes," a reality show on The Esquire Network, gives you a behind the scenes view of the makings and breakings of a youth football league.  But not everyone is on the same team, when it comes to this issue.

"I think most coaches have the best interest of the kids at heart. But, a lot of coaches, on that particular show, I don't want to say the whole league is like that or the whole enterprise is that way. I know some coaches are better than others. I think that can happen anywhere you go. It's about the coach, not about the league," Michael's wife, Terra, said.

Terra and Michael Melton have a son who plays for the Permian Basin Youth Football League. Michael is one of their coaches. They both have very strong feelings about what youth football should and should not be about.

According to Michael, "That's just a controversy you're going to have in any program you start. How is the coach going to coach the kid? Is he going to do it the right way?" 

The PBYFL goes the extra yard to make sure all their players are in the safest of environments. Player Safety Coach, Robbie Brown, does background checks on perspective coaches.  He also makes sure all the boys are playing in the safest gear and conditions.

"The enrollment in youth football has been down in the last couple of years because of the concern for concussions and things. So we have partnered up with USA Football. They are affiliated with the NFL. They are the largest, youth football league in the country," he said.  

Concussions are a major concern from youth football all the way up to the NFL. Constant training on the part of the coaches translates into proper training for the kids on the field, to ensure injuries, especially concussions, are few and far between.  

According to Brown, that's where Heads Up Football, really comes into play, "It's a technique for tackling and contact, which shows these kids how to keep their heads up, keep their heads out of the play, so to speak. Thus eliminating, not really eliminating, so much, but definitely reducing concussions."

But even the most up to date training won't do what it's supposed to unless players are wearing the proper gear. That includes helmets and even body pads.

"We have gone with, what we feel, is top of the line equipment. We use Riddell equipment. The equipment itself, in additions to the techniques we are teaching, makes our league a safer football league for the kids," Brown said.

PBYFL board member and coach, Ethan Schrecengost, has been with the league since it started two years ago.  

He had this to say, "I have a kindergartner and a second grader that played tackle, together, this year. There was a lot of issues that surrounded whether it was too early for them to be playing football. I think, if they are properly coached and they are taught the way they are supposed to be taught, it should not affect them in any form or fashion."

Coach and dad, Michael Menchaca, agrees, "If you let your child, come to a coach and you continue allow your coach to belittle your child, it's on the parent."

Menchaca went on to say, "I don't believe in it. I'll never believe in it. I believe it's a fun sport, you can still be tough on the kids. But in the end, they're kids and it's about having fun." 

All the coaches, remember they are also dads, are in agreement. This is not what PBYFL is all about. Theirs is an organization that promotes youth football in a Christian based setting with the main focus being on safety.

Even though they support their husbands and let their boys play ball, some mothers can't help being, well, mom.

Terra Michaels shared, "He got hit, by a bigger kid, in full pads, and he wasn't getting up and of course, you feel you're the only one who notices the kid is not getting up. But that's not the case. Everybody notices."

Lorena Flores said, "I know there's going to be contact, regardless and he's going to learn, himself, what's going to hurt him and then he's going to get back up. It's every moment, every mom's fear, when he hits the floor, is he going to get back up?"

The coaches, board of directors and moms of the PBYFL strive to make it a learning experience but a fun one at the same time. The coaches' goals are to train the young players, well enough, so they'll be ready to move up to the junior high and later on, high school ranks.

The line between father and coach can be crossed easily. But with all the coaches working together, they make sure the only line that's crossed here, is the goal line.

"They're not getting paid to do the sport. They're not getting close to college scholarships or anything. They're kids and that's where you have to pull back the reigns. You know?", Menchaca said. 

The PBYFL, currently has 13 tackle football teams and fine flag teams. They take players from Pre-K through 6th grade. They hope, once parents see how these safety techniques work and the kind of environment the kids are in, their enrollment number will triple what they were two years ago.