Five years ago, Scott Brown and Rhett Turner turned two youth-football associations into the Central Arizona Youth Football League. Since, they have added 17 more associations, including two that were accepted this year
The merger of the Cave Creek/Carefree and South East Valley associations after their exit from Pop Warner football has kept the men busy. They remain in executive-director positions, orchestrating the continued growth of the CAYFL with a goal of creating something that would change the way kids play football in the Valley.
“We played for Pop Warner together,” Brown said. “Rhett told me that he was going to go in a different direction, and I wanted to join.”
The CAYFL is affiliated with American Youth Football, the largest youth-football and cheer organization in the country. It includes tackle and flag football as well as cheer.
“I told the board, ‘Look, we can make this jump, we can start something new and we can really do the right thing for the kids,’ ” Brown said.
That was January 2005. The latest additions to the league are Dysart and Northwest Valley this season.
“We did not have a lot of exposure in those two areas, so adding these two groups helped us out,” Brown said. “We now cover the entire Valley.”
Garry Cole, a fourth-year coach in CAYFL, was nominated to become president of the Dysart association.
“I started with CAYFL as a coach at the Desert West Association,” he said. “Being out in Surprise, I decided to take on the role of becoming president of Dysart since there was no association there.”
The Dysart group includes players from south Surprise, El Mirage and Youngtown. There are 68 kids, ages 7 to 12, on three tackle teams.
“Since this is our first year, we only have tackle teams,” Cole said. “But I am very passionate about getting a cheerleading program started.”
Debbie Wiora, the new president of Northwest Valley Association, was voted in by the parents to take lead. In order for the area to join CAYFL, they had to prove themselves to the executive directors and the rest of the league.
“We had to set up a meeting with the other presidents of the associations at one of their monthly meetings,” she said, “and we had to, along with some coaches, put on a presentation and explain what we were about for the kids. We had to be accepted into the league.
“Right now we have two teams,” Wiora said. “We only have tackle teams, but by next year we want to have a cheer team, a flag team and more tackle teams.”
Wiora felt that becoming a part of CAYFL would benefit the kids. They left a league where teams were based on grade levels. In the CAYFL, kids are placed in groups by age and weight limitations.
Not only is this league focused on the benefits of their kids, but also on the presidents. With several leagues in the Valley the difference between CAYFL and everyone else is that they allow the presidents of each association have a say in how things should be run.
“As executives, we don’t do what other leagues do and control the teams,” Turner said. “We just observe.”
The teams play together three months out of the year. The other nine months, the presidents are committed to doing anything that will provide growth to each individual association.
“Registration is March through June,” Brown said. “We form the rosters in July, practice starts the first Monday in August and the games start the first Saturday in September and go all the way through Thanksgiving.”
A year-round activity for the presidents and executives of the association, this turns into a full-time job.
“This is year-round because you are fundraising, trying to get sponsors,” Wiora said. “You have to find your fields. Everything that we do we have to pay for. Some fundraising events have been cup sales, poker nights for adults, candle sales, candy sales and car washes.”
In the long run, CAYFL associations prepare players for high school football.
“We really push for kids to keep up their grades,” Wiora said. “You have to keep your grades up to play.”
Working with high schools and getting that relationship built between the coaches and kids is a big focus for CAYFL.
“You try and get that relationship with the high school,” Brown said, “and that helps build your program up because then the high school people know, especially our older fields, when they hit their freshman year they’ve played football and they know how to balance their homework and practice time.
“It’s a win-win situation.”
All these people have had or currently have kids in the league. That is how they all got involved.
“We have tackle football from ages 6 to16,” Brown said. “Flag football is from ages 5 to 9, and the cheerleading program is from ages 5 to 15.”
As the years go by, the league continues to grow and has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
“I’ll still make the comment to Rhett,” Brown said. “ ‘Hey do you still think we made the right decision?’ And he always laughs and says, ‘Yeah, we made the right decision.’
“We’ve got a great league.”