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Sherwood Park Youth Flag Football debuts with 200-plus players - FlagSpin

Sherwood Park Youth Flag Football debuts with 200-plus players

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Sherwood Park Youth Flag Football has hit the extracurricular scene and with 230 players between the ages of five and 15 in just the first season.

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Kicking off at the beginning of this month, the 24-team co-ed league is part of NFL Flag, a division of RCX Sports, and gives young athletes the opportunity to get out on the field without the risks associated with traditional tackle football.  

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League organizer Lori Ekdahl has high hopes for the future of the sport in Sherwood Park.  

“I think the biggest thing that draws a lot of people who just like football is that it’s non-contact. That’s a really attractive feature for people who really like football but who are aware of the risks of tackle football,” said Ekdahl, who is organizing and managing the league with husband Shane Ekdahl.  

Ekdahl and her family moved to Sherwood Park in fall 2023 from Regina where they were part of the local flag football league. She said despite being new to the community and new to the organizing role, so far everything has been smooth sailing.

“It’s kind of hard to believe that it all came together the way that it did, and we’ve been so well received by the people in Sherwood Park,” she said.  

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Sherwood Park Youth Flag Football
The inaugural season of the Sherwood Park Youth Flag Football League has officially launched. Photo courtesy of Infinite Eye Photography

Though some of the games during the second week of the season were postponed due to air quality conditions related to wildfire smoke, Ekdahl said the league is off to a great start and has been welcomed by the community.  

“There’s a lot of hype right now around the league. We’ve been really, really, really well received by a lot of parents and people are really impressed with like the organization.”  

As awareness surrounding brain development and head injuries increases, so too has the popularity of the sport, with flag football set to make its Olympic debut at the 2028 Olympic games in Los Angeles.  

While Ekdahl said she doesn’t foresee contact sports being completely replaced, there is a rise in interest in non-contact alternatives.  

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“There’s just so much more data coming out about head injuries, and I think people are just becoming more aware and wanting to take that risk a lot less. Even at the Pro Bowl, the NFL players aren’t playing a tackle game. They’re playing flag as well in their downtime.” 

For 14-year-old Cole Bechard, this season marks his first experience playing football. His mother, Sarah Bechard said she hopes to see him develop as a player.  

“He’s interested in football but he’s not a big kid, so this is nice that it’s non-contact. (It is a) way to ease yourself into it, to see how he likes it,” she said.

Sherwood Park Youth Flag Football
Sherwood Park Youth Flag Football League (SPYFFL) is bringing NFL flag football to Sherwood Park. Photo courtesy of Infinite Eye Photography

Sherwood Park Youth Flag Football’s rules are a hybrid of NFL flag and Canadian flag football rules, which Ekdahl said is to help players who might way to play in Canadian tournaments. One key rule she highlighted is the requirement that every third play must be a pass.  

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“If you do a run and a run, then you have to pass or you can do run, pass, run. But as soon as you have a pass that that reset, that just encourages quarterback development and receiver development. I mean, it’s great to run the ball and the fields are small here, so it’s easy to run the ball as well, but it just encourages some player development.” 

With a league mandate of “low cost, low commitment, big impact”,  the inaugural season will run for eight weeks, wrapping up before the end of the school year. With practices once a week and games on Saturdays, it offers more flexibility than other youth sports options. 

“It’s a really low commitment way to get into the sport and you don’t need anything to play other than running shoes. We provide everything. You get shorts, you get a jersey, you get a flag belt, you get a mouth guard, you just need to some shoes and everything else is included,” Ekdahl explained.

Though the season has just begun, Ekdahl is optimistic about the future of flag football in Sherwood Park. 

“There’s statistics from NFL flag that state that brand new leagues in the first four years double every year. So, I’m expecting to have 500 next year,” she said. “You can’t go wrong with flag football. What’s great about this league is. It’s the perfect spot for a beginner and it’s also great if you have experience. There’s such a focus on athletic development and fundamentals.”
X: MacLeodTheodora 

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