Last weekend’s jamboree got things rolling, and now it’s time for the Owensboro Daviess County Youth Football to officially begin.
The full season schedules were released Wednesday, and games begin Saturday at 9 a.m. starting with the Instructional League for 4-year-olds. The first two weeks feature games only on Saturdays, while weeks three through six also have contests on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, depending on the week.
The first round of playoffs is scheduled for Oct. 21 and 23, with semifinals on Oct. 25 and the championship games on Oct. 27. All games during the regular season and playoffs are played at the four-field complex at Waymond Morris Park.
Following the postseason tournament, each division will have an All-Star team that can compete in the King of the Hill Classic as well as the Kentucky Cup, which are both held in late November.
ABOUT ODC YOUTH FOOTBALL
The league was formed nearly half a century ago when a group decided they no longer wanted the local football teams to participate in Pop Warner. Current president Robert Bradfield, who got involved beginning in 1976, said the newly formed league fit what the community wanted better than Pop Warner for various reasons.
“I was told that with Pop Warner, they got a percentage of your registration fees to be sanctioned with them,” Bradfield said. “They had set rules they went by, and they went by grades instead of ages. A group of guys formed the (ODC Youth Football) league in 1972, and they basically did rules that fit our local area and kept the money here.”
The board for the league felt it would be more accurate to separate the divisions by age rather than by grade level. They offer an Instructional League (age 4), Flag Division (5-6), Rookie Division (7-8), Junior Division (9-10) and Varsity Division (11-12).
Players start full contact on a full field beginning in the Rookie Division. The Flag, Rookie and Junior Division teams are selected by a draft, though Bradfield said the league is lenient for the younger players who want to be on a team with friends.
“We try to do what they want,” Bradfield said. “We don’t want a 5- or 6-year-old to be on a team without any buddies. This is all new to them, so if they request to be on a team, we try to do that. We’re pretty lenient on what we’ve got to do.”
As the players age, though, the league tries to spread out the talent as much as possible. In years past, a coach’s son was automatically placed on his team, and the coach still got a first-round pick. Lately, though, Bradfield said the league is doing everything possible to create parity.
“We’ve gone as far as to have evaluations now,” Bradfield said. “We have some guys who have been in the league a long time but don’t coach anymore. They come in and evaluate the coach’s son. We’ve got it now to where we feel like as far as the parity of it, it’s all good. There’s not any way one coach is going to get two or three good kids before the other coaches have even gotten one.”
The Varsity Division does not have a draft. According to the league website, the players will be put on teams from which the player attends Middle School — the ODC Youth Football league wants to provide more playing time for those 6th-graders playing on 7th-grade teams still within the Middle School structure, plus give players not within middle school ball a better league with more playing time.
It’s not just about spreading around talent and getting playing time, though. Bradfield said one of the most important aspects of ODC Youth Football is providing a safe atmosphere in which to play.
He said the league places a high priority on safety, and they follow the Heads Up Football guidelines put forth by USA Football. According to their website, Heads Up Football ensures that every coach is thoroughly trained in fundamental aspects of football safety, injury prevention and injury recognition.
That’s why one of the key features of the program is coach certification — using the only nationally accredited courses in the sport with content created by football experts and health professionals.
“All coaches go through the course and get certified,” Bradfield said. “They will learn how to look for concussions, heat exhaustion, things like that. They also have a lot of learning tools online. Safety is our main priority. Whatever we have to do, we’ll take care of it.”
On top of relying on the coaches to ensure the children’s safety, Bradfield said the league expects good role models to instill positive values in the youth.
“We feel like we’re on top of the game and everything we’re doing is for the good of the league,” he said. “Our coaches are teaching how to accept loss and have sportsmanship. We want each player to be a better person when they leave. That’s what we strive for. We’ve got a scoreboard so that means you want to win, but on the other hand, we don’t win at all costs.”
Bradfield said he thinks the league has made many improvements over the years, and it’s helped contribute to growth both within the league and in postseason participants from around the country. One of the biggest attractions, Bradfield said, is the four-field complex the league has at Waymond Morris Park.
“They’re some of the best grass fields you’re going to find,” he said. “We host a tournament, and teams come from all over. They can’t believe how good the fields are in November. A lot of them are travel teams so they go all over the country playing football, and they always compliment our fields because they just left a place where all the grass was dead.”
While the league’s name suggests it’s all about football, Bradfield made sure to mention that the cheerleaders are just as big a part of ODC Youth Football as the players are.
“They’re out there in the rain and cold,” he said. “They’re always out there doing their thing. At the end of the season, we rent out the Sportscenter and they have their cheerleading competition.”
The competition, always held the first Sunday in November, typically draws a crowd of about 3,500 people. For the event, the cheerleaders are divided into a younger division that performs for fun and an older division that competes for prizes.
The postseason tournaments for the football players then take place for the All-Star teams. This year’s King of the Hill Classic, usually featuring about 60 teams, is set for Nov. 9-11, while the Kentucky Cup will take place Nov. 16-18.
Bradfield said he thinks the league is in a pretty good place overall, but they are always open to suggestions from coaches and fans.
“We like to make ourselves available,” he said. “It’s not necessarily just for problems. It’s not just for someone to complain to about a bad call. If there’s something that needs to be fixed, like a hole in the fence, we want the input. I want feedback. We’ve changed things based on parents concerns and some good ideas. We’ll listen to anything.”