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FLAG FOOTBALL

Younsters learn a little bit of football and have a great time on the field
by: John Brewington TOUGH RUNNING—Young Brandon Neilson tries to evade defenders during the last weekend of youth flag football at Scappoose High School. He plays in the K-1 age group.

When the small youngster in the Pittsburg Steelers jersey hikes the football to his teammate, it more resembles a slow-motion, backward-through-the-legs handoff. The young girl taking the ball passes it to a running back about four feet away and he takes off on the run.

It's all not so much a football game as it is Intro to Football 101 for the kids. Skills become honed as they advance through the age groups and some of the kids will eventually play high school varsity football.

This is the third year for NFL Flag Football in Scappoose and it's turned into a good chance for kids to get exercise, learn to work with others, and pick up some football skills.

Now in its third year, the youth program is the brainchild of Jason Hildreth and Sean McNabb. Hildreth, 39, is a math teacher and assistant football coach at Jesuit High School. McNabb is the head football coach at Scappoose.

'Sean and I had been talking about it for 7-8 years and then three years ago we thought we'd do it,' Hildreth said. 'We both had kids who wanted to get out to play.'

The league is organized into teams of three for the younger kids, and five for the older ones. The age groups are: Kingdergarten-1st grade, 2nd-3rd, 4th-5th, 6th-7th-8th. This year there are 215 youngsters, both boys and girls, involved in the program. Hildreth says the league has about 20 coaches, and about seven kids per team in the upper age groups. The first year of the program they had 160 kids turn out and last year 240. Hildreth has two kids in the program.

Several local businesses have helped sponsor the program: Sears, Sunsations, Oregon Paper Company, Bell Studios, All About Fun, Columbia Sportswear, Designed by Jenn, Dr. Frank Hsieh,Scappoose Cinema 7, RE/MAX PowerPros/Jan Hildreth.

They've also gotten some help with the program from some NFL players like Derek Anderson, Slade Norris, Owen Marecic, Jordan Senn, and Kevin Boss.

A lot of the coaches are parents of the kids. Some have considerable football experience.

Mitch Neilson, a K-1 coach, has a son, Brandon, 5, on the team. Nielson is the former head coach of Parkrose for three years, played on the 1994 championship Seaside team, and has a father, grandfather, and uncle all with high school coaching or college experience.

He came to Scappoose in 2007, wanting to get back to more small-town roots. He got involved as his kids got bigger. He'd like to move up with them and eventually get back to coaching at the high school level, even just as an assistant. He currently works in emergency management for the Hillsboro Fire Depart-ment.

'As long as my schedule allows, I want to be involved with the community. I made a commitment to myself to make sure the kids have a good positive experience.'

'I love working with the kids,' Neilson said. 'We just teach fundamentals. I like teaching benefits of hard work, a lot of that gets lost in today's society.'

Still at the young ages he knows it's more about having fun and learning the basics.

The kids all get reversible NFL jerseys all from NFL teams. On Saturday's they divide up the varsity field into quarters and the kids play games with 40-minute running clocks. The season starts late in June and runs through the last weekend in July.

It costs only $40, a reasonable fee just for a jersey. Watching the little guys and girls play: priceless.