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AFM Magazine

Letter from the Publisher

I have seen the future . . .
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Several weeks ago I had the chance to go to deep in the heart of New York's Bronx and the playing field of John F. Kennedy High School to see first-hand what can be done to help save the game from the disease of decreased numbers. Like everyone who works in football, I am concerned with the problem of kids not playing the game. "Are there going to be enough kids to play the game in 2015?" people ask somewhat sarcastically. But "soccer mom" is a dirty term in many a room filled with football people who know the truth.

Why are kids not playing? Why is the game all but dead in the inner-city? What can we do to get kids playing at the youth levels so they'll play in high school, college. . . and so on?

I have seen the future. It unfolded every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evening, during this past March and April, on that field at John F. Kennedy High School.

The National Football League invited me to come see its new Junior Player Development program, a pilot of what is to become a national initiative. When I left that field, I knew I had seen the salvation of the game. I knew I had seen what will become to football, what tee ball has to baseball: a safe and fun way to introduce 12-14-year-old boys to the game, its rules, and sportsmanship. A way to effectively "crawl before you walk," so to speak.

The NFL has come up with a plan to teach the game of tackle football that emphasizes the fun of the game and decreases the built-in fear inherent in learning the game (everyone who has ever strapped on the pads knows it is frightening the first time they have to run full-speed into someone with a suit of armor on). The challenge for the NFL must have been to overcome the way football has been taught on playgrounds for years (. . . get two lines about 10 yards apart and force scared young boys to run into each other to see who is brave).

Believe me, they met the challenge. The NFL's Junior Player Development program works. It is invigorating and uplifting to anyone who loves the game.

I saw 150 inner-city kids, not one of whom had ever played a single down of organized football, having fun, whooping it up with all of the enthusiasm of a Texas preseason scrimmage. These kids were having fun, and you know what? They were pretty darn good too.

What the NFL is doing is right. It is assuming its rightful place as the caretaker of the game. The NFL has carefully examined the monster and found a way to beat it.

As clearly as I can see my own face in the mirror, I have seen the future, and it is kids playing football in a highly structured, safe, fun-filled, teaching environment, in the inner city, on playgrounds and at parks in the suburbs. Everywhere there is an open field, I know that kids will run back to the game.

Who wins because of this? Everyone who cares about the future of football. I encourage each of you to contact the NFL and see how you can get involved with the Junior Player Development program and bring it to your community. It is a wise investment and one that will pay off for not only your schools and programs, but for generations to come.

Barry Terranova


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