Mines coaches, players enjoy hosting youth league
By Joshua R. Russo, Journal staff | Wednesday, August 19, 2009
RAPID CITY --- From the beginning, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology’s NFL Youth Flag Football League works like the professional league. Mines players, who serve as the youths’ coaches, have a draft meeting in which each coach has a list of 10 youth players for their teams. After the draft, the players call each of the youth to tell them they have been drafted, for example, to the Jets.
“We tell them they have just been drafted,” said former player-coach Logan Smidt, one of at least 20 players who drafted teams at an annual party. “(Later) we give them a jersey, and they get really excited about it. Sometimes they do not say a whole lot.” Smidt has plenty to say about the league. He loves coaching and spending time with kids. “They want to play the game someday, and getting out there and showing them a few things is pretty nice. It would be nice to see them come up someday and play at our level.” Boys and girls in grades 1-4 can join the league and play games from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. The season begins Sept. 13 and continues until November. “We teach them some easy routes to run, how to catch passes and how to snap the ball,” Smidt said. “It’s just a great learning experience for the kids, and they love it.” Dan Kratzer, Mines head football coach and commissioner of the youth league, said the league has been fun for everyone involved. Kratzer and Tom Rudebusch of the Hardrock Club started the youth league to give the Mines players a chance to give back to the community. Kratzer wanted to give young kids a chance to learn some football fundamentals. “As we did that, the interest was there, and there was an opportunity for our freshman players to meet young players,” Kratzer said. The young players started to spend about an hour and a half each Sunday with the youths, and the interest and enthusiasm for the program has grown since. There has been so much interest that Mines is gathering feedback into adding a spring league for players in grades 5-8. “If we had more time, we’d open it to more kids,��� said Kratzer, who added that about 200 players participated in the program last year. “It’s been a part of our routine and part of our program. We hope it instills some interest in Mines football and encourages parents to come to the games.” There is also a great turnout for the parents. The youth program, now entering its fourth year, initially drew more fans and tailgaters to its games than the Mines games on the previous Saturdays. With the increased success of the Mines program, that has changed. The youth program also serves as a break for the Mines players and coaches. Kratzer said that before he grades film and does entry checks for his Mines team, he enjoys working with the kids. Kratzer is the announcer for the Sunday youth games, a duty that some of the players want to do now as well. “It’s a refreshing getaway,” Kratzer, a former NFL player for the Bengals and Chiefs, said. “It gives our players and coaches a chance to not think of themselves.” “Our coaches, we have a gift to share.” The league is for both boys and girls. Kratzer said that several girls outrun the boys in the games. The league gives the Mines players a chance to see the game from a coach’s eyes. Kratzer enjoys seeing the kids look up to the college players. The player-coaches get to see a fresh excitement and enthusiasm for football. They also get to see some of the struggles of a coach. “Initially, (the Mines players) said, ‘Sometimes it’s hard to get their attention and keep it,’” Kratzer said, adding that sometimes the youth break away from the action and like ‘to start their own games midfield.’ “It gives them a little perspective of coaching.” Dustin Rougeau, one of the Mines player-coaches, said the league teaches the Mines players about patience and playing as a team. Rougeau was successful in teaching his kids. Rougeau, and Smidt, were able to win the Super Bowl last season. The league lasts at least seven weeks and ends with a two-week playoff for four teams. The season ends with a ��Super Bowl.’ The Super Bowl is something the Mines players relish in. Both Rougeau and Smidt proudly display their trophies from the youth league in their lockers. “We did (brag about it) right when it happened,” Rougeau said. Registration for the league is open until Aug. 21, with forms available at local Common Cents stores, and stores in Wall and Sturgis. The cost is $80 per player, which includes an NFL jersey, flag belts and seven games.
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Devereaux Library. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.