TEWKSBURY — As the beginning of September approaches, that only means one thing here in the town of Tewksbury: youth football is in the air.
This year will have a little bit a different feel as opposed to last year, as Tewksbury Youth Football became the 33rd town to join the Central Mass League this past summer.
Tewksbury’s previous league, the Northeast League, essentially served as a “feeder program” to high school football for seventh and eighth graders, not really paying much attention to the younger grades.
Rich Russo, who is entering his sophomore year as the League President, and fourth year overall on the TYF board, says the Central Mass League seems to fit TYF the most.
“We wanted to give the kids a better experience, take care of younger kids just as much (as the older kids),” he said.
The new league allows a town like Tewksbury to reach out to kids from other towns that aren’t allowed to play for a Pop Warner team in their town for a multitude of reasons.
On top of this, the league’s playoff format is pretty solid. As part of the American Youth Football Association, the Central Mass League has an eight game regular season, followed by playoffs. It has a State Bowl Championship, which leads to a Regional Bowl Championship, which, if teams could be so lucky, leads to a National Bowl Championship in Florida.
Tewksbury is the only team in the league to see numbers go up overall from last year.
This year, a total of 123 football players are in the TYF program, up from 117 last year. In addition, there’s 78 cheerleaders and 265 flag football players, in grades kindergarten through eighth grade, round out the rest of Tewksbury Youth Football.
“I’m extremely proud of that, we’ve been on a downward track the last ten years, (it’s nice to see), said Russo.
Five tackle teams will be featured this year for Tewksbury, with one head coach and five assistant coaches per team. Cheerleaders participating this year will have three head coaches and four or five assistant coaches.
The coaches are certified in safe tackling, concussion protocol, bullying, code of conduct, and CPR training through the American Youth Football Association.
“A lot of parents question the validity of the league and this sport, so we want to make sure the kids are in good hands,”
There are more things to look forward to as well. Russo said teams will have all new uniforms that replicate the high school look, and they have already gotten great feedback from parents.
Money has also been put into new equipment for the players, including two man sleds, one-man sleds, and three man chute sleds.
The Town of Tewksbury voted at last year’s annual town meeting to put new light poles and LED lights down on Livingston Street within the next few weeks as well.
“Taking money that parents put into the program and giving it back to the kids, that’s what it’s all about,” Russo said.
Russo went on to say football is like the game of life, that it teaches kids camaraderie. If there is anything that he wants to take away from this season, it is how to win and lose with pride.
“We don’t put the names on the jerseys, we put the big ‘T’ for Tewksbury because the kids are a part of something bigger,” Russo said.