'Amazing little athletes' take field Saturday

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It’s been two years since Franklin County’s elementary school kids played football competitively, with a cheer crew on the sidelines urging them on.

That’s all going to come to an end this Saturday, as Franklin County Youth Football and Cheer takes the field in Carrabelle to take on Port St. Joe at the season-opening Jamboree.

“They are amazing little athletes,” said Lani Rae Segree, president of FCYFC.

The league, for Franklin County youth ages 5 to 13, has managed to attract a sizeable number of players, beginning with the Teeny division, which is nearly entirely for ages 6 to 8, although 5-year-olds have played provided they meet the eligibility criteria.

Segree said 26 players have signed up with Teeny, which is coached by Buck Melvin with the help of Assistant Coaches Bubba Mashburn and Dale Butler, and Assistant Practice Coaches Trey Millender and Larry Hatfield.

For the Tiny division, made up of 9- and 10-year-olds, 21 players have signed up. Their coach is Lelon Gilbert, helped by Assistant Coaches Jonathan Brown and Matt Roberts, and Assistant Practice coaches Jacob Montalbano and Ryan McClain.

In the Peewee division, the roster boasts of 18 players, ranging in age from 11 to 13, coached by Darrian Turner, with Assistant Coaches Scott Kelly and Levi Odom.

Darrian Turner is one of best football coaches I have ever seen,” said Segree. “He is amazing; I toot his horn. He teaches kids fundamentals, and most of our parents have been coached by him.”

It’s not a matter of kids just walking out on the field Saturday and having fun doing whatever you want.

Practices are held Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at Vrooman Park, and the expectation is you have to take part in that learning process, or don’t expect to be playing.

“Our coaches are crazy fair,” said Segree. “If you don’t come to a single practice, you may sit on the bench. If you come to practice all week, they’ll make sure every one of those boys get playing time.

“We have a few kids, some of the littler kids get scared and they don’t want to go out there (but otherwise) they make sure every kid gets playing time,” she said.

In 2019, when Franklin County sent its Peewee team to the Super Bowl, there were seven teams taking part, but since then Sneads has dropped out, leaving Port St. Joe, Wewahitchka, Blountstown, Liberty, Chattahoochee and Franklin to battle every Saturday morning from now until the second week of November.

Last year, COVID forced the league to cancel its season, but it’s back for 2021, and “we’re going to rock it out and do the best we can,” Segree said.

This is the first year that there will be cheering for all three divisions, as the league has doubled the number of girls to 56.

Denisha Allen Alday will be coaching the Peewee cheer squad. Mackenzie Register, now recovering from a serious car accident, will share duties with the Tiny girls with co-coach Morgan Thompson. The Teeny coaches are Casey Roberts and Crystal Millender.

The non-profit league relies nearly entirely on its own fundraising. Each participant pays $65 to register.

Segree said county parks and recreation tends to the field in Carrabelle. “We’re the only league in the Big Bend that has its own field and own concession stand,” she said.

She said the county commission has been supportive in the past as well. In 2017, the county sprung for the first round of helmets, 80 of them, and the next year shouldered the cost of pads and pants.

Girls are welcome to play on the field, and have in the past, but not this season. “This is the first year we don’t have a girl on any team,” Segree said. “We do not discriminate; if they want to helmet up, we let them.”

The rules are pretty much like those in high school, although there is no kicking of the pigskin. And there is a weight limit on those who can carry the ball.

Among the Teeny players, no one over 90 pounds can tote the ball. For Tiny players, the ball carrier has to be under 120 pounds, and among Peewees, under 140 pounds.

The action gets underway at 10 a.m. in Carrabelle Saturday with the youngest division, and then it’s Tiny at 11 a.m. and Peewee at noon.

“We have amazing talent in franklin county,” said Segree.

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