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Coming together for football

Shawn Bailey (quarterback) loves playing tackle football, but also enjoys flag football. CONTRIBUTED

Roland Clough loves it because it’s a chance to play a game he loves just for fun.

Shawn Bailey loves it because it’s a chance to move from tight end and linebacker to quarterback.

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And Olivia Lakos loves it because it’s a chance to beat up on boys.

All three were among 310 kids who had the time of their life Sunday morning during championship Sunday of the All Star Youth Flag Football League. It was the final week of an eight-week schedule where teams played games at Northeast High School. And while the kids were the main attraction, it also gave high school football players a chance to give back by coaching, reffing and just hanging out with the younger athletes.

There were champions crowned in each of the four age groups, 5-6 years old, 7-8 years old, 9-10 years old and 11-12 years old, but this league was more about fun and less about futures.

“I would bet 90 percent of these kids will never play high school football, it’s boys and girls and they’re just out there, running around and having fun,” said Ed Trampe, Liberty Bell’s football director. “Last year we had it at Archbishop Ryan and it was great, but I have a great relationship with (Northeast football coach) Phil Gormley, and we decided to have it here this year. It’s been great. His players have been great. Look at the facilities, they lined the fields, they are working the event. They really helped make this a great event.”

Sunday was the culmination of a great season that includes eight games and no practices. The goal was just to have fun and get the kids running around. On Sunday, there was plenty of fun football, but the day also included a DJ spinning tunes and Eagles cheerleaders walking around, getting the fans hyped up while taking pictures with the players and, of course, the players’ dads.

Between the weather and the fun, it couldn’t have been any better.

“I had a pick on the goal line, that was my favorite part,” said Bailey, a Fox Chase native and St. Cecilia first-grader who led his team to the championship game. “It’s a lot of fun.”

That was the popular opinion.

“This was fun because we were just having fun,” said Clough, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Stephen Decatur School and lineman at Liberty Bell. “This is fun. I like playing in these games.”

It’s even more fun when you’re showing off your great footwork.

Lakos, a rising fourth-grader at Fox Chase school, tried playing football a few years ago and despite being a singer, violin player and dancer, she expanded her horizons to become a star receiver. Now every year during the flag football event, she shows her skills.

“It’s fun, when I first did it, I found out I was a really good catcher,” Lakos said. “I think this helps with dancing. I tried football and I really liked it. I have fun doing it every year.”

Winning makes it fun.

DeMarques McLean, 13, led his squad to the championship. He was happy to hoist the trophy after the victory.

“We played well, I’m happy, there’s good players here,” he said.

It was a great day for the youth to show off their skills.

But it was a great day for the bigger kids to show their stuff.

Vincent Beverly, a recent Northeast graduate and star football player bound for Millersville, traded in his cleats for a clipboard. He helped call the plays for his team, and while it was a new experience for him, he enjoyed playing the role of coach. And since he’s had role models like Gormley and Northeast grad and former New York Jets defensive end Deion Barnes, he wants to be a role model for the next generation.

“It was fun, I like being on that side,” said Beverly, who plans on playing center and guard at Millersville. “I’m trying to give back and help the younger guys. I know what it’s like to learn from people like our coaches, and if I can help someone, I’m happy to do that. They have a lot of fun out there, and I’m just there, trying to help them do the right thing.”

That’s nothing new for the Vikings.

The team, which has won three straight Public League championships, is known for being better off the field than on it, and that makes the coach happier than the victories.

“I love seeing them with the kids,” Gormley said. “You’ll see the kids working with a player like Elijah Jeudy, and then you’ll see Deion Barnes go over and they’ll leave Elijah and gravitate toward Deion. But they’re all out there, helping, having fun.

“We asked some of the guys to help, and they wanted to do this. They like being here, they like helping. And it’s great for the players. These kids, the vast majority of them are not going to be football players. This is their football. But it’s good for the community. We love having them here.”

Who knows where it will lead?

Maybe to a flag football championship. Maybe to a national championship.

“He loves Georgia because he likes watching the Prep kid, D’Andre Swift,” said Bailey’s father, also named Shawn. “He loves football. He loves playing tackle football, but he loves this just as much. He really likes to compete and win, so it’s great to be out here. It’s a great day.”

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