One of the unique things about the camp was that the entire flag belt came off when pulled, so it was very obvious to the ball carrier when he was down .
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
With two-a-day practices just around the corner, soon Westwood’s fields will be packed with football players busting their tails in the sweltering summer heat. But this week, it was the younger Westwood football stars who braved the high temperatures and hit the gridiron behind Thurston Middle School.
Sure, it was flag football, and the “gridiron” was made of cones along a soccer field, but with the 7-14 year olds of Westwood Recreation's flag football camp facing off in their playoff rounds, the intensity was still pretty high. Or at least, it was until the Frisbee dog show distracted the players.
Deemed a “perennial favorite” by Westwood Recreation Program Manager Joe Bertone, the program runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and maxes out at forty kids. The flag football games themselves are split between the seven- and eight-year-olds and the nine- to fourteen-year-olds, with differing rules and more counselor intervention for the younger players. But lest you think a week of six hours worth of flag football sounds like a lot, it ends that up some kids are so devoted, they have signed on to attend the camp for multiple weeks - and many of the players come back to the camp every year.
“I’ve had some of these kids for three or four summers,” counselor James Perry explained after helping a kid with a bloody nose. “A lot of them have grown and gotten a lot better, but I’m also seeing some new faces. We cap this camp at forty people, but I’d love to see us grow in the future and have even more kids playing out here.”
As for the rules, there is a first down point in the middle of the field and an endzone. Players have three downs to make a first down, and three more downs to score a touchdown. Defenses have one blitz they can use, but otherwise must work off a five “Mississippi” pass rush and need to be aware that quarterbacks can run at any time.
However, it seemed that the preferred defensive technique was to drop everyone in coverage and wait for a frustrated quarterback to throw the ball, without having to pressure him.
Because six hours of pure flag football would be absurd, the counselors mix up doing drills and playing tangentially-related football games. But the drills the players go through are very much rooted in real football, since two of the counselors are former Westwood Wolverine football stars.
“The games in the morning, we do a lot of drills, a lot of routes, a lot of de-flagging, focusing on getting low and trying to grab the belts instead of standing straight up," Perry explained. "We have some ex-football players from the high school, Brendan Fay and Shea Loughnane, who are running this. Shea’s been with me for a couple years, so he’s really good at getting into the drills and helping the youth get ready so they can come up through flag and then onto the high school team.”
Outside of the drills, the boys and girls (it’s a coed, but male-heavy camp) play flag tag, and a football-based version of capture the flag where players can capture a football and either throw it to their end for one point or try to run it back for two.
Perhaps the most interesting thing the camp had was a combine - featuring a 40 yard dash, pushups instead of bench presses, a football-throwing accuracy competition and a long jump. The best 40 time from a player was a 5.1, though Shea Loughnane clocked in around the 4.6 to 4.7 range. Perry explained that while the counselors will play on occasion, the older kids can be pretty strict about he games, particularly with them having been split into teams who were holding a playoff tournament.
But, with the kids being so young and the general Westwood Recreation camp taking place on the same field, that intense playoff focus did break down for a second. A man who specializes in Frisbee dogs was holding a show, so many of the players wandered over to watch it - and one even got picked as a volunteer.
Still, the disruption didn't last all that long.
The teams were in the midst of their playoffs, and there was a champion to be crowned.