The Boys & Girls Clubs of Alaska (B&GCA) hosted their final football games of the season on Saturday morning, October 7. With frost on the ground, parents crowded into the bleachers of Anchorage Football Stadium to watch their children play. Athletes and parents alike were sorry to see the season end.
Jason Leonardis, B&GCA’s Athletic Director, says that “The kids, coaches, and parents have worked hard to provide a positive experience over the duration of the season.”
Saturday morning was the culmination of a productive season which started in July. Football practices were five nights of the week with games played on Saturday. Over 270 children, 165 of whom were returners, participated in the program. Nearly 60 coaches volunteered their talents and energy to benefiting children wanting to play.
The B&CGA has been offering this program for over 50 years and the club is excited to continue offering it at an affordable price with stalwart support from sponsors like ConocoPhillips. The Club is excited to offer it because the program serves the mission of empowering and inspiring Alaska’s diverse youth to achieve their full potential.
Jennifer Brown, Director of Development and Communications for B&GCA, says that children are motivated to participate in the program because many of them likely have parents who played football when they were children. Regardless the children’s motivations, coaches view the opportunity to use football as a vehicle for mentoring and keeping children physically active.
“For the coaches,” Brown says, “they know how important it is for the kids to be playing outside, learning new skills, and they wouldn’t put in the time that they do if they didn’t know how important it was.”
The Club considers itself successful because it provides students a safe environment in which they can hone their athletic skills and learn about sportsmanship. Within this setting, they can be empowered and inspired to reach their full potential. It provides them a structured time for them to play football at a good time of the year and to be coached by people who are passionate about the sport and the opportunity to influence children.
“These kids are learning lessons they’ll take with them through the rest of their lives,” Brown says. “Kids involved with sports tend to be more motivated, goal-oriented and tend to do better at school. They tend to be happier and the lessons they learn through sportsmanship, how to win and lose, how to develop that character is what Boys and Girls Club is all about.”
Coaches, like David Barney, have volunteered for nine years because of the opportunity to help children. Actively engaging six nights of the week was worth it because of the opportunity to instill lessons into the kids about teamwork and life.
One of Barney’s favorite drills at the start of the year is to have one player try to score by himself against a team of eleven to solidify the point the necessity of teamwork.
“In the real world,” Barney continued, “it’s not easy. You’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do but you have to fight through and live to see another day. I think football translates in a lot of ways [to life]. I want the kids to be better people and to be ready for the real world.”
Though the 2017 season concluded on the afternoon of October 7, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alaska is already thinking about next year. Funding will continue to be an issue of concern, but they are excited about the future and seeing how the program benefits children.