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Peninsula Flag League gives youth a tackle-free football experience

A Commanders player makes a catch against the Bolts as flag football teams compete at Central Kitsap's Cougar Field on Thursday, June 23, 2022. The Peninsula Flag League fields teams of players from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Swarms of kids gathered on Central Kitsap High School’s athletic complex Thursday for some evening football, but not exactly the kind played by high school teams on Friday nights in the fall.

Contests featured six players on each side. Instead of jerseys and pants, kids wore shorts and t-shirts. The only required pieces of equipment were hip belts featuring breakaway flags of various colors. 

No, there’s no need for helmets or shoulder pads when competing in the Peninsula Flag League, the tackle-free brainchild of owner and commissioner Russ Shiplet. The league, which is designed for youth players from kindergarten through eighth grade, kicked off its seven-week summer season Thursday. 

“It’s teaching them the fundamentals of football in a safe environment,” Shiplet said.

Shiplet, a retired Navy trainer and current executive director for the Kitsap Public Facilities District, originally brought youth flag football to Kitsap County in 2018 through Under Armour, which sponsored “Under the Lights” leagues across the country. Shiplet first organized a league in North Kitsap and expanded it to Central Kitsap.

“We had about 475 boys and girls we were serving,” Shiplet said.

After the most recent winter season, Shiplet made the call to break away from underneath the Under Armour umbrella and rebrand as the PFL this summer. 

Bolts coach H'arion Gaulden grins as his team lines up for the snap against the Commanders at Central Kitsap's Cougar Field on Thursday, June 23, 2022.

“I already had the players, I already had the communities and so forth,” Shiplet said. “We just changed it to a locally-owned league with the plan of expanding to South Kitsap (in 2023) and beyond to cover the entire Kitsap Peninsula.” 

For some football families, the PFL represents a summer and winter supplement for pee-wee/youth players who typically compete in the fall. For other families, the PFL serves as an option for kids who may not quite be ready for the physicality of tackle ball. The cost per season is $150 per player with some discounts for families with multiple players.

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Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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