CHILLICOTHE – With August just around the corner, for many Ohio families, that means the start of high school football.
Throughout the state, football remains its most beloved sport and Friday nights have religiously been spent cheering on teams for generations.
However, the love for the game does not just start once a child reaches high school, most have wanted to play since they were children.
One of the best opportunities to start playing is the Chillicothe Youth Flag Football League (CYFFL), which has been operating since 2013.
Hundreds of children ranging from 4-12 are separated into six teams: the Chargers, Raiders, Southeastern, Patriots, Cowboys, and Bengals. From there, the age groups being are broken up between Bandits (4-6), junior varsity (7-9), and varsity (10-12).
CYFFL President, Brad Scraggs talked about the value of sports for kids and said that impact goes well beyond just having fun.
“Sports bring a sense of enjoyment,” Scraggs said. “But underneath the enjoyment, sports prepares children for their future in life by developing life skills. They increase physical activity and health, form social and community bonds, and kids learn how to face and overcome challenges.”
Prime examples of all of those things can be found with the Chargers, one of the CYFFL’s younger teams.
Though Derek and Natashia Rapp serve as the team managers, it is clear that it takes a village for the team to run.
“My only experience with football before coming here was watching Ohio State play,” Derek Rapp said. “I have really had to study it and rely on my assistant coaches who understand football. So, I am considered the hype man. I am the one who gets everyone excited and charged up.”
From assistant coaches, parents, and even churches, it seems that the Chargers are intricately linked to the Chillicothe community.
In fact, for Derek, those relationships have produced some of his favorite moments of his four-year tenure with the team.
“My first year, we had about 14 players who could not afford their fees,” Rapp said. “So, I reached out to our community and Church Triumphant and within an hour, all of those fees were paid. The church has been a major sponsor for us and has really given the kids access to the community and those who are willing to help them.”
Parents are also active in helping out the teams, especially the mothers who have been designated “team moms”.
Hannah Bartholow is the wife of assistant coach, Scott Bartholow, and mother of cheerleader-to-be Amellia, who will be four in August.
She has been a team mom for three years and said that she relishes that the role allows her the chance to be a positive influence.
“I try to be a positive role model outside of the coaches,” Bartholow said. “While I do a lot of organizing fundraisers and paperwork, I also know that the children are our future. So, we have to make sure that they are pointed in the right direction and can continue in a positive light.”
Like many others attached to the team, Bartholow has appreciated the chance to watch children grow.
Very similar to families like the Buchanan’s who have seen their child blossom on the field, and do so safely.
With the CYFFL being a flag football league, it cuts out on a lot of the contact and injuries that can occur in traditional football.
Chris and Rachelle Buchanan’s 7-year-old son, Christopher was a prime example of it in 2020.
“Last year was his first year playing football,” Rachelle Buchanan said. “So, it was a good opportunity to start at the flag level. It really helped him to build his skills.”
And build his skills indeed because he was named the Bandits’ Defensive Most Valuable Player last season. Off the field, his father noticed even bigger changes.
“Last year Christopher had some problems with his anger,” Chris Buchanan said. “His growth has been really apparent and this year I can see him being any better. Football has helped him emotionally, mentally, and helping him to better interact with other people.”
Like the rest of the CYFFL, the Chargers will kick off their season in August and it will continue on through November where each team would have the opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl.
For the last two seasons, the Chargers have participated in back-to-back Super Bowls, but have come up short in both.
Most recently, their junior varsity team was defeated by the Patriots in the big game.
After the tough loss, the team is hoping to come back with a vengeance in the Fall and Rapp said that winning would mean the world to the team.
“For our kids to win the Super Bowl this year would be a realization of hopes deferred,” Rapp said. “The teams we have gone against in the past couple of years, especially in the playoffs, have been tough. Our kids are primed to make another run and I think it would be beneficial for them to see their hard work pay off.”