Youth football league cancels 2020 season

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BENNINGTON — One local fall sports league has decided to cancel their season due to concerns over the coronavirus. The Northeastern Youth Football League, which features 12 teams from New York and Vermont, including both Manchester and Bennington, made the call last week.

The decision came after a meeting in which each team had a representative to discuss the possibilities, and risks, of playing youth tackle football this fall.

Mount Anthony Youth Athletic Association (MAYAA) Football President Ken Mailhot, who is a prior coach of the Bennington Minutemen football team that competes in the NEYFL, said he "reluctantly" voted to cancel the season.

"There's just so much uncertainty," Mailhot said. "There's just so many unanswered questions and so little time to try to squeeze it all in and make some kind of season."

With nine of the 12 teams competing in New York communities, the league would have been forced to start no earlier than Sept. 21 due to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association's (NYSPHSAA) decision on July 16 to delay fall sports until that date. Many of the New York based teams play on athletic fields that are unavailable until Sept. 21 because of NYSPHSAA's ruling.

The league typically begins their three-plus month long season around Aug. 1, meaning more than half the season would be lost by the time the NEYFL would have been able to begin their 2020 season.

Mailhot said he feels bad for everyone who is losing a season of football. He especially feels for the oldest of the group, the sixth graders.

"The sixth grade season in this league is akin to your senior year of high school," Mailhot said. "I feel awful for them."

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Mailhot said there was only two organizations that voted to continue with the season. He explained that these organizations did not want to close the door on the NEYFL at this point.

Bennington has a third and fourth grade "junior" team as well as a fifth and sixth grade "senior" team. Each team generally fields anywhere from 25 to 30 players. There is also a flag football team for the age group of kindergarten through second grade.

In all, around 70 Bennington kids take part in the NEFYL per year.

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Manchester, Hoosick Falls and Cambridge also compete in the league.

Mailhot added that with the high-level of contact football naturally has, there are obvious health risks with playing the sport at this time. He believes canceling the season at this point will allow a lot of those kids to play a different sport this fall.

"They should have an opportunity, rather than hold their breath and hope there's a football season, to maybe go play another sport for the fall," he said.

There have been preliminary discussions on having a flag football season for Bennington residents in place of the traditional tackle football league.

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The idea at this time would be to hold practices once and a week and play a game per week on Sunday.

"Just to get the kids to play some football," Mailhot said.Mailhot said a Mount Anthony High School football player has reached out to him to help volunteer with the flag football program.

The president said if MAYAA were to go forward with that plan, he would want to keep it lax to allow the kids to play another sport during the fall, if they desire to do so.

"Keep it light, keep it fun," Mailhot said.

Mailhot said the league deciding to not have a season will hurt MAYAA finically as they fund themselves through registrations and sponsorships.

The president said the organization hopes to come to a decision by mid-August on whether or not to create the flag football league.

"We're hoping we can still get some community support that keep things rolling," Mailhot said.


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