Youngs Sportsplex is a happening place Friday nights in June.
With 700 Niagara Youth Flag Football League players taking the field, the parking lots are full, the field are jammed with spectators, the barbecues are going and there is a carnival-like atmosphere.
“For every kid that is playing, you have to assume there’s at least two parents here and when you do the math, there’s 2,000 people if not more here every Friday night,” NYFF founder Matty Hill said. “It is fun. It has a cool feel and it is really neat to see all the families and everyone come together. There’s brothers and sisters playing all night.”
An added part of the festivities is the participation of Cheer United.
“They were here one night practising and I met their coach. I asked what they thought about getting cheerleaders out here to add to the Friday Night Lights vibes,” he said. “It has been a huge hit.”
The house league divisions start at age three and run to age 15. The most popular division is Grade 5-6 with 20 teams.
“It is really cool to see that here in Niagara you get to play such a variety of teams,” Hill said.
The schedule runs nine weeks and concludes with the championship tournament this Saturday at West Park.
To make the leagues run smoothly requires 18 officials, three staff members, 60 volunteer coaches and 20-30 other volunteers.
“It is such a good community feel. Everyone just helps and they get that we really can’t do this on our own with a small group any more,” Hill said. “Bryan (Freve) does a lot of the operations behind the scenes and it was just me and him for a while. So many people have stepped up.”
The house leagues are at a point where they are bursting at the seams.
“We actually had to turn a lot of people away this season and that was tough for me to do,” he said. “We seem to taper a little in the fall but we have a plan. If we are going to get up to an uncomfortable number of close to a 1,000 which I think we will be at next spring, we are ready with an expansion plan.”
The NYFF now had 10 games going at the same time on the three turf fields at Youngs Sportsplex but there is room to have four games going on each field.
“What I am doing now is that I have such a good pool of referees that if I get short on coaches we will start paying some of our refs to coach. There are great high school, college and university kids,” Hill said. “We really pride ourselves on having trained and qualified coaches.”
He is not shocked by how much the association has grown.
“We have so many great people involved so I am not surprised but I am surprised how fast it has grown.”
Prior to COVID-19, there were 60 kids participating in the house league.
“This year was our biggest challenge because we went from 450 to 700 kids.”
Niagara Youth Flag Football’s travel programs are also booming and the house league is quickly becoming a feeder system for travel.
“It has been really good for that. We have a couple of ages where we are trying to fill in some travel teams and you take one walk around the fields and every night you are going to see five or six girls or boys that are like ‘Wow. Where did you come from?’ It is great.”
All the current travel players also play in the house leagues.
“You may be a superstar but you go play in the house league and you make nine or 10 other kids feel good about themselves and enjoy what it is all about,” Hill said. “It’s a way to take their travel hats off and just have fun. I am proud of our travel kids because they understand the culture that we want.”
The eight-week fall house league season will start Aug. 11 and will run every Friday night at Youngs Sportsplex until Sept. 30.
Registration is open for the next week or so at niagarayouthflagfootball.com.