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Preds NFL Play 60 Youth Flag League a huge success

Posted 7/9/2013

By Alex Zank
Leader-Telegram staff
It's like "Monday Night Football" in the summer, only the players are a bit younger and smaller, and they rip flags from belts instead of making tackles.
Chippewa Valley youngsters from ages 10 to 12 are taking part in a flag football season at Carson Park through a collaboration among USA Football, the National Football League's Play 60 campaign and the Chippewa Valley Predators of the Northern Elite Football League.
Robert Diaz, coordinator of Eau Claire's flag football program through Northwest Wisconsin Champions, an official chapter of USA Football, the national governing body of American football at the youth and amateur levels, said the program aims to improve the players' fundamental skills at football, learn about safety, and provide an avenue for exercise and team-based play.
"We're here to provide a service to the community, the parents and the kids," Diaz said.
Matt Risen, general manager of the Predators, said about 45 boys participate in the program, making up eight teams.
The Predators players give up practice time on Mondays so kids in the flag football program can practice and play games on the field, Risen said. Some Predators players even volunteer their time to help coach the kids.
Predators quarterback Chance Garner said coaching has become "a passion." Coaching in the Play 60 program, as well as through the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Greater Chippewa Valley and high school football players, "is an opportunity for me, another blessing, and I wanted to be part of it."
"This is valuable to the community and the kids because it gives them an opportunity to get exercise and have fun," Garner said Tuesday. "It's not just about football, it's more about getting outside and being active.
"There are a lot of parents who tell us they appreciate what we're doing, and I think they see the fun we have with the chants and breakdowns to make it as fun as possible," he added. "We're showing them that football is fun, and when they are out there wearing those little NFL jerseys, they feel like they are doing something pretty big."
The program includes young cheerleaders of around the same age that practice and perform cheers alongside the football teams on Mondays.
During a passing drill Monday, participant Kaden Thurmond said football was his favorite sport, and his favorite player was former Wisconsin Badger Russell Wilson, now the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. Thurmond sported a Seahawks jersey; each player is given a jersey of his choice from Play 60, the NFL's campaign aimed at encouraging kids to be active for 60 minutes a day in order to reverse childhood obesity, and gets to keep it when the season is over.
"The coaches help me improve," Kaden said. "They're really nice."
Luke Becker, another flag football player, said he likes playing because it helps him improve his skills.
Luke scored his first touchdown Monday after he caught a deep pass, then was given a handoff to finish off the drive.
"I felt excited (to get the touchdown)," he said.
Diaz, who is passionate about football and its positive impact it has on kids and the community, said if it weren't for the sport, he wouldn't be where he is today.
He grew up in inner city Los Angeles and said football and some of his coaches and mentors provided inspiration for him. He is now applying what the sport did for his life to try and make the community a better place.
As the kids were warming up with laps around the field, stretches and pushups, Diaz watched and talked with enthusiasm.
"They've improved so much already," he said. "And look, even though they're all on different teams, they're working together as one."
The flag football season will run through most of the summer.
Zank can be reached at 715-830-9203, 800-236-7077 or
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Players or cheerleaders interested in the Monday night flag football program may register at, or call Robert Diaz at 715-456-7789 or Matt Risen at 715-559-7417.

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