During the frosty winter months, Maple Grove’s youth football association does not lie dormant. For the parents, coaches and players, football is a year-round sport.
The association teaches the sport to kids as young as second grade, with players given the opportunity to work their way from flag football to tackle and up to the high school Crimson team.
Scott Fritz coached for the league for close to five years before joining the board of directors, where he now serves as chair. He joined to coach his son, but stayed to be a driving force behind the community’s rallying sport.
“Friday night football games bring the community together," says Fritz. "Maple Grove being small, it’s inspired a lot of people and it’s the way we stay connected and interlinked. It helps provide identity with who Maple Grove is.”
Resounding support from the sports community is seen in the sheer number of hours members devote to the association. Between head coaches, assistant coaches and everything in between, Fritz estimates around 100 volunteers spend nearly 10 hours a week in practices, games and planning.
A highlight of the season is the first home game, where youth teams form a tunnel for the varsity players to run through ahead of kickoff. The stands are packed at home games. It’s something Fritz doesn’t take for granted.
“Now you see people who don’t have kids in high school that are just there to watch the game,” Fritz says. “On Friday night home games, when varsity and youth are on the field together, it’s a pretty cool event.”
Parent Nick Johnson originally saw the opportunity to coach as a way to spend time with his son and break away from the day-to-day work routine. “In this day and age, urban kids don’t have a ton of responsibilities. With football, we can challenge them and it’s individually rewarding for each kid,” he says. “They work together towards a common goal.”
Even though it’s February, Fritz and the board of directors have been at work preparing for the next season since October. With the Super Bowl in town, the association also brought players together for a winter football event.
Still, there are quite a few months to go until the youth teams assemble. For anyone wanting to play football in the fall, Fritz recommends staying active during the winter months. If possible even play another sport in the off-season. “Football is one of the only sports that encourages multi-sport athletes,” Fritz says. “We have kids that are really good at football and baseball or lacrosse. When they take the summer off, the beginning of the season can be tough for them.”
If starting another sport is intimidating, the high schools host an after-school opportunity for junior high athletes to build basic core conditioning. Varsity players run this speed and strength program. “Once they’ve gotten their speed and strength up, it builds confidence,” Fritz says.
Whether or not football is something kids want to continue during college, or even high school, the skills and mentality involved in the sport apply beyond the game. “Football is a team sport where you can’t be a phenomenal team if you just have one-to-two good players. You truly need all 11 players on the field,” Fritz explains. “It’s not about making the best player a better player, but to make everyone a better player.”