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48 HOURS OF FOOTBALL: Youth football teaches more than the scoreboard reads

Friday, October 28, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:36 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 28, 2011
Deninis Rohr, assistant coach for the Columbia Chiefs, instructs Trevor Gleason in between plays during a game at Cosmo Park on Oct. 23. The Columbia Youth Football League includes kindergarten through eighth-grade level teams.

Hour 43: 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 23

Fall Sundays are still reserved for football in Columbia. There may not be a professional team here, but the Columbia Youth Football League makes its presence known throughout the city.

Around 11 a.m. on a pleasantly warm day at Cosmopolitan Park, the fourth-grade team is finishing up a game. For the players, it's still a learning experience. The coaches are in the huddle and on the field. One of the coaches is casually drinking a juice box. The sidelines have dedicated supporters, some of them wearing jerseys that match the players.

A white tent near one of the parking lots is offering food and drinks and is run by volunteers and players. Inside, Chuck Everitt, vice president of the league, said the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade league is currently 750 players strong, "give or take 15," as he put it.

Everitt is in his 40th year as a volunteer with youth football in Columbia. As a former coach, president and commissioner, he said he has been around the block more than a few times.

Everitt said the league is not as concerned about what numbers are on the scoreboard. Instead, it is more focused on teaching the players that it's important to get an education and learn the fundamentals of the game.

"Athletics and academics go together," Everitt said. "… This isn't the NFL — winning isn't everything, but sportsmanship is."

It's 11:30 a.m. and playoffs are about to start — the fifth-graders have run through their homemade banners and onto the field.

The playoffs in this league have a round robin format. The two teams, the Boonville Pirates and the Columbia Chiefs, don't have winning records, but that doesn't stop the kids from competing hard.

On one of the first drives of the game, the Chiefs took the ball into the red zone; a few plays cost the team substantial yardage. Faced with a long third down, one of the parent volunteers sets down the yardstick.

Another parent volunteer who is holding the other stick barks at him to pick it back up. "They could still get a first down!" he said.

On the next play, quarterback Lance Kuhns runs to the end zone and dives toward the right pylon for a touchdown, nearly taking out a photographer on his way in.

It’s 1 p.m. and the Chiefs-Pirates game has concluded, with the Chiefs winning convincingly, 32-6. As the teams are shaking hands and packing up their stuff on the sidelines, the Bears and Cowboys, both from Columbia, run onto the field.

This game has more on the line. Both teams know that in this playoff game, the winner will advance to the championship game.

For the Cowboys, this is a chance to keep their undefeated season intact. With a record of 5-0-1, coach Doug Howes said winning has had its perks.

"You can see players step up even more," Howes said. "You can see it in their attitudes."

There is one difference that is noticeable about the Cowboys. One of the tight ends is a girl.

Howes thinks there isn't a big difference that the girl on the team, Taylor Belt, plays with the boys. He said the teams always "size the kids" when assigning player matchups.

"The only difference is she has hair hanging out of her helmet," Howes said.

On the sidelines, the coaches look tense while the supporters — nearly even for each team — are loud and vibrant.

On the field, the players look focused. Both offenses are even as they swap touchdowns in the first half, going into halftime tied.

With a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bears ultimately seal their spot in the championship game with an interception that’s returned for a touchdown.

The final score was 34-16.

After the players shake hands, the teams retreat to their sidelines. The Bears players are ecstatic. The Cowboys look distraught and heartbroken, even while their supporters praise them for their hard-fought effort.

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