Football is the true definition of a “man’s sport.” But nowadays, local kids don’t have to reach manhood before they can flex their muscle on the gridiron.
Gorge Youth Football is one month into its third season, and besides learning offensive and defensive formations, this group of fourth through sixth graders from Stevenson to The Dalles is also figuring out a few things about life.
“Football is the ultimate team sport,” said Hood River Green head coach and 2000 HRV graduate Mychal Lucas. “It teaches these guys a lot of life lessons like toughness, communication skills and working well with others. Football instills certain things in its players that many other sports can’t.”
Lucas’ team won the league title in 2001, and despite losing two of its top players (Shay Huskey and Travis Carratt) to the middle-school ranks, the team got off to a strong start, winning its season opener 52-0 over The Dalles.
“I started letting the linemen run the ball, but they were scoring, too,” Lucas said. “But it was also great to see Michael Smith come back and score a couple TD’s after missing last season with a broken arm. That was a big treat for the whole team,” he said.
Another local team, Hood River Blue, is also off to a fast start, posting victories of 14-6 over a solid White Salmon squad, and 34-0 over The Dalles to begin the season 2-0.
“The team is coming along really well so far,” said Blue head coach Erick Von Lubken. “Our kids have made a lot of progress since last year, and it’s been great to have so many returning players. That field experience is a really big key,” he said.
Although Von Lubken’s team has been strong out of the gate, he insisted that in Gorge Youth Football, winning is secondary to learning and having fun. With that in mind, league organizers decided not to hold a championship game this season.
“There’s too much emphasis on winning these days,” he said. “We want these kids to learn basic football skills and progress for the next year. They can worry about the winning aspect when they get to high school.”
Von Lubken and Lucas are both primarily focused on teaching the basics of tackling and blocking, while emphasizing safety first.
“The last thing we want is for a kid to get hurt,” Von Lubken said. “Safety is our No. 1 concern.”
Both Hood River Green and Hood River Blue play today in Stevenson, and have byes next week because of Labor Day.