Town of Payson Recreation Coordinator Mary Wolf leaves little doubt she is a huge fan of the local youth flag football program.
“This is my favorite that is offered through parks and recreation,” she said.
“It’s exciting and the progression of skills through the season is very rewarding for players, parents and spectators.
“It gives kids the opportunity to play football without the contact of football.”
The acceptance of flag football in the Rim Country is an intriguing, ongoing story.
Years ago on the sidelines of some games, spectators jokingly referred to the league as “football for moms” which most likely meant young athletes wanted to play the sport, but their mothers didn’t want to see them banged, squashed, bent and bruised as sometimes happens in tackle football.
Today, flag football has evolved into a popular sport among doting mothers. It is also a rapidly growing recreational sport because it is cheaper, players don’t need pounds and pounds of protective equipment and children can participate regardless of their size.
Since football has long been a big part of the culture of Payson, flag football is a chance for parents and children to be involved in the sport without worry of serious injuries.
The non-contact flag football program dates back to 2003 when Arizona Cardinal Youth Football Coordinator Rich Tomey traveled to Payson to introduce the program to then Parks & Rec Director Bill Schwind and recreation coordinator Teddy Pettet.
At the time, Wildcat football fans remembered Tomey as the son of former University of Arizona football coach Dick Tomey.
In the fall of 2004, Schwind and Pettet founded the local league as part of a nationwide league that was launched in 1996.
When starting the program in Payson, Schwind touted it as one that would educate young people about football while emphasizing participation and sportsmanship.
Also, when the program was first founded, Payson teams played in a 6-on-6 format, but teams since have played 5-on-5, as do most other programs around the country.
“We have a maximum of 10 kids on each team so there is plenty of playing time for everyone,” said Wolf. “It’s a co-ed league and the girls love to play as much as the boys.”
In the games, the offensive teams play for first downs at midfield and a touchdown in the end zone. Running and passing plays are allowed although there are “no running zones” at midfield and near each end zone.
For the upcoming league, players will be placed in one of two age divisions, 5 to 12 years of age. Players must be at least 5 years old.
Registration for flag football continues through Aug. 12. Practices will start in mid-August and games begin at the end of that month. Games are played weekday evenings on Rumsey 1. Registration is $35 and includes a game shirt, mouthpiece and practice flag belt. Call Wolf at (928) 474-5242, ext. 7 for more info.