Malibu flag football passes enjoyment on to new generation of athletes

Casey Kelly, number 10, sprints away from defenders. 

There’s something special about flag football that spurs the imagination. In earlier days, we mimicked Terry Bradshaw at quarterback, or Mike Singletary at linebacker; throw on a Rams jersey and it was time to be Eric Dickerson. A simple, graceful game that brought out a smile in each of us.

Since its inception in 2001, the City of Malibu’s flag football league has passed that same joy to a new generation. There are currently 64 participants for the 2012 season. Teams in the league are broken down by the local elementary schools—Webster, Juan Cabrillo and Point Dume—in order to foster school spirit and camaraderie. On occasion, Our Lady of Malibu has also submitted teams to the program. The league is separated into two divisions—the 2nd/3rd grade division and 4th/5th grade division.

“The boys play all their sports together, but football is the special one because it is fall,” league coordinator Sandy Banducci explained. “They can practice with their coaches at lunch and at PE. Every minute they have spare time they are playing football.”

The participants themselves echo Banducci’s sentiment.

“I’m good at it and it’s fun. You get to run and get exercise,” said Preston Cook, eight, who plays for Point Dume Elementary. “I like to play quarterback and throw the ball a lot.”

The league’s rules promote participation over size or skill level. Whether it’s the 2nd/3rd grade division, which features five on five, or the 4th/5th grade division, which is seven on seven, each player plays the same amount of time. Most importantly, there is no hard hitting or tackling. The emphasis is on learning the fundamentals of the sport and the rules of the game. 

With all the concern over concussions in youth sports, flag football is serving as a safe introduction to football.

“The flag football league is a safer option for kids in learning the game of football locally, while decreasing the chance for injury as seen in tackle football,” said Katie Gallo, the city’s recreation coordinator for youth and adult sports.

The emphasis revolves around teaching, so that youngsters learn the right techniques, added Banducci.

“There is no contact but they are learning the game; the positions, the different plays, the fundamentals,” said Banducci. “Every week they get better. It’s a great thing for our Malibu community.”

For many players, that first taste is enough to bring them back for more.

“It’s fun and it’s energetic, you get to run a lot,” said Quincy Karlin, 10, of Juan Cabrillo. “I want to play tackle football in the future.”

The teams are coached by parent volunteers, as well as physical education teachers from their schools. It’s a commitment many enjoy as much as the players.

“I love kids that are at such a coachable age where a little encouragement goes a long way,” said Webster Coach Craig Detweiler. “There is such satisfaction in seeing something we work on in practice actually work in the game.”

Point Dume Coach Indy Moore moved to Malibu from Indianapolis, hence his first name, and instantly fell in love coaching flag football.

“Football isn’t that big in Malibu, so we want to kind of pump it up and make it big and make it fun,” Moore said. “From the time I’ve been out here until now, the talent and the passion for football has grown. It’s really cool to see that.”

After six weeks of playing, the regular season will conclude on Oct. 24. The 4th/5th grade level will have a single elimination playoff game on Nov. 7 with the championship game at stake on Nov. 14 at 3:30 p.m.

“It’s why I wake up in the morning,” Juan Cabrillo Coach Ryan Van Otten said. “The weather, the community, the kids and it’s flag football.”