GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — A win-win scenario that hopefully leads to a few more victories later on.
A longtime supporter of youth football within the area, the Gallipolis Elks Lodge #107 has chosen a different sort of path for the 2016 gridiron campaign — one that’s meant to reward every individual interested in learning America’s most popular sport.
After conducting a thorough study over the past year while also receiving funds through various grants, the Gallipolis Elks Lodge #107 decided that a move to the Tri-State Youth Football League would be in the best interest of its youth football program at this time.
In years past, the Gallipolis Elks Football League pitted multiple Gallipolis team against one another while also facing a handful of out-of-town squads, which ultimately led to a somewhat limited level of competition.
The TSYFL, however, will be the exact opposite of what has been the norm over the years — with five different age groups from the Gallia County area playing against identically-aged teams from other areas of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.
And, instead of splitting up the local kids to face one another, Gallipolis will be able to keep all of its players on one team while battling another area’s best talent.
“We did quite a bit of research on this league over the past year and we really felt that it would be a big benefit to the kids in Gallipolis and to the future of our high school football program,” said Buddy Moore, who serves as the Director of the Gallipolis Elks Football League. “Instead of teaching our kids to battle one another, this gives us an earlier opportunity to teach them how to work together against other teams from other parts of the area. It allows us to grow together in a competitive environment.”
There will be five Blue Devil teams from the Gallipolis area competing in the TSYFL, with each team being based on a specific age group.
The E team features the youngest players between the ages of 6-7, while the A team is the oldest group with players aging 11-12 years old. The D, C and B teams respectively cover the age groups of 8-9, 9-10 and 11-12.
That quintet of Gallipolis squads will play in the American Division of the TSYFL, which also features teams from the areas of Barboursville, Beverly Hills, Douglas Cammack, Fairland, Hurricane, Tornado and Ona/Milton.
Each of the five Gallipolis teams will play equal-aged teams from each of those seven areas during the regular season in a variation of home and away contests.
What’s more, each team from each community will automatically qualify for the playoffs in their respective age groups — with winners advancing their way for a shot in the Turf Bowl, which is held every year at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on the campus of Marshall University.
Cheerleading is also part of what’s going on with the move to the TSYFL, which has led to more than 50 young ladies signing up to cheer on their respective classmates.
But even more noteworthy, all of the participants — male or female — are participating free of charge.
Between grants, the support of the Gallipolis Elks #107 and local foundation sponsors, all kids between the ages of 6-12 are able to participate without in any signup or uniform costs. The league is also open to any resident of Gallia County, not just the city of Gallipolis.
Each football player is provide with a uniform, helmet and equipment free of charge, which allows anyone interested to be able to participate — regardless of that family’s economical situation.
The Gallipolis Elks Lodge #107 has also recently purchased a school bus that is — at the moment — being converted into a road-safe vehicle for player transportation. Moore also noted that he hopes that the bus is operational by this upcoming season.
The Blue Devils will play three of their seven games during the regular season at Memorial Field, with Tornado opening the home schedule at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4.
Gallipolis also hosts Hurricane on Saturday, Sept. 10, and Fairland on Saturday, Oct. 1 — with both days having games start at 10 a.m.
The younger team — the E squad — will start the day’s lineup of games and will go by age until the final game between the A squads from both areas.
All admission proceeds will go to the Gallipolis Elks to help offset some of the costs, while all concession money raised during those three days of home games will be donated to the Gallia Academy Athletic Boosters in lieu of not being charged for usage of Memorial Field.
There are also around 20 coaches participating with the five Gallipolis teams, all of whom have been certified in concussion awareness while also going through a heavy screening process.
Though joining the TSYFL provides a unique opportunity to compete with other communities, Moore notes that the experience of being together will only benefit Gallipolis in the long haul.
“This is more than just about football. We want this to be more of a thing that the community can get involved in,” Moore said. “This is simply about kids having an opportunity to play this game while also emphasizing the importance of teamwork.
“We are committed to trying this because we think it has a lot of long-term benefits for our future football teams. It may not be the final answer for improving our youth football program, but it certainly is a start in a positive direction for us moving forward.”
Moore says that there are around 85 kids participating between the five Gallipolis teams, but that there is also still time for that number to increase if anyone is interested in playing. He also noted that the older squads — the 10-11 and 11-12 age groups — are a little lower on numbers than the younger teams.
If anyone is interested in being part of Gallipolis Elks Football League this fall, you should get in contact with Buddy Moore at 740-441-7783 for more information.
All participants must provide a copy of his or her birth certificate upon signing up. July 31 is the cutoff date for participants in each of the age levels.
Buffalo, Chesapeake, South Point, Tolsia, Vinson, Wayne, Lawrence County and Ceredo-Kenova are also participants in the TSYFL as members of the National Division.
Gallipolis opens the season with consecutive Saturday road games against Douglas Cammack (Aug. 20) and Barboursville (Aug. 27), both of which start at 10 a.m.
The Blue Devils also travel to Beverly Hills (Sept. 24) and Ona/Milton (Oct. 8) for their remaining road contests, which also start at 10 a.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.