Coach John Miller sits with the 4- to 6-year-old flag football team during practice.
DUNEDIN – It’s not about football. Not really, at least.
For new Dunedin Junior Falcons Coach Michael Gardner, youth football is about the training that applies off the field too.
“A lot of what we’re doing is not just teaching football, but life lessons as well,” Gardner said. “It’s the discipline, the camaraderie.”
August welcomes Gardner’s first season as head coach of the Dunedin football teams, but he’s been around youth football long enough to know the drill; he and his son left the East Lake league after a few years once they saw Dunedin make a change.
“They’ve done a nice job turning things around,” he said. “With many youth sports, the bottom line is leadership. Our focus is the boys.”
Gardner has already begun mini-camps before practices start, bringing in coaches from Countryside and Clearwater and outside trainers. They’ve worked on speed, agility and footwork. And he’s hosted camps with the new Dunedin High School football coach, Matt LePain, preparing his players for the next level.
“That’s the next step, so we want to make the transition easier,” Gardner said. “By 8th, 9th grade, the boys that like football are going to stick with it.”
Gardner has a mantra that he’s brought to this year’s players: Falcon RED. Respect. Effort. Discipline. On the field. At home. During school. Wherever they go, that’s what Gardner expects from his athletes. Respect. Effort. Discipline.
Suncoast Youth Football Conference is comprised of 12 teams from across Pinellas County: Azalea, Clearwater, Countryside, Dunedin, East Lake, Gibbs, Lakewood, Northeast, Pinellas Park, Seminole, St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs. Teams play a 10-game season and finish with conference playoffs, typically the weekend before Thanksgiving. Typically, Dunedin has had four varsity level teams of 25 or 30 players: 7- to 8-year-olds, 9- to 10-year-olds, 11- to 12-year-olds and 13- to 14-year-olds. This year, enrollment is up 50 percent from last year, and Gardner said the league is looking at fielding at least two junior varsity teams.
“Everything’s lining up this year,” Gardner said, “from new uniforms to quality coaches, board leadership and support from local businesses.”
John Miller, president of the Dunedin Youth Football League, has a lot to do with this year’s imminent success. Without him, Gardner said, the program would have fallen apart.
Registration for the Dunedin Youth Football League will continue through the beginning of the season at the Dunedin Junior Falcons practice field, 1651 Pinehurst Road, Monday through Thursday, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. To register, a parent or guardian must bring a copy of your child’s birth certificate, two wallet-size photos with a clear view of his face, a driver’s license, emergency contact information and insurance coverage information if applicable. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The league also offers cheerleading, including performing at football games, spirit week, dances, homecoming events, family night and skating parties. Cheerleaders also will participate in three cheer competitions in October and November. For more information, email Cheer Coordinator Karra Lawson at email@example.com.