By Pete Pichaske email@example.com
1:55 PM EDT, September 16, 2012
His team had just been shut out, 27-0, when legendary Howard County football coach Doug DuVall was corralled for a post-game interview as he walked off the field.
So, coach, how do you feel after the loss?
"It's just great fun, coaching these kids," he said with a grin. 'It's like herding cats."
His smile broadened.
"My biggest job is snapping helmets (on) and tying shoes. And every once in awhile I get the chance to coach."
Forgive DuVall his nonchalant reaction to the loss. But his team these days is not the Wilde Lake High Wildecats where he coached for 36 years before retiring in 2009 with five state championships under his belt. No, DuVall now coaches a Howard County Warhawks 6-8-year-old youth football team in the Mid-Maryland Youth Football League — on which, not coincidentally, his grandson Clay plays.
And in this league, while the boys play hard and the coaches work hard, winning seems secondary to countless other things, among them having fun in a family-friendly environment that keeps thousands of Howard County families happy and involved.
In Howard County, football season is not just for Ravens and River Hill High School fans. It's also for the thousands of fans of the half-dozen youth teams that play in the Mid-Maryland Youth Football League, including teams in Columbia (two), Elkridge, Ellicott City, Laurel and west county — the last being the Howard County Warhawks, which have the most players in the county and the league.
For these fans, mostly friends and family of the players, football is every bit is important as for die-hard Ravens fans, and at least as enjoyable.
"We love it," said Mike Sotka, 41, of Dayton. Sotka's 7-year-old son Ethan, plays for DuVall's team. His two other sons, Max, 13, and Drew, 10, also play for Warhawks teams, which are grouped based on age and weight.
"We're here for 7 1⁄2 hours every Saturday," said Sotka, who moved to Dayton from Iowa just two years ago and was elated to discover the Warhawks. "But it's a fun thing. And it's a real family thing. You get to know the other parents, the other kids, and you follow them."
Sotka's commitment in time and effort is not unusual. During the season, teams have weekly games, practices two or three times a week, and assorted other meetings.
On the September Saturday of the Warhawks loss to the Silver Spring Saints, the two football fields at Western Regional Park in Woodbine were in use nearly all day (at least until the rains hit).
"We play 14 to 18 games every Saturday during the season, and maybe four games on Friday night," said Paul Marshall, president of the Warhawks. "I'm usually here from 7 a.m. till 9 p.m. Saturdays."
And for all of the activities, since the boys are so young, parents are involved.
Youth football is a big enterprise in Howard County, and it takes a lot of parent volunteers to make it work. Marshall said the Warhawks employ some 150 coaches and administrators. On top of that, on football Saturdays volunteers are needed for other jobs as well.
At Western Regional Park during September and October, volunteers run a busy concession booth that sells hot dogs, cheeseburgers, soft drinks and more, while others work at a table that offers a remarkable array of red, black and gray Warhawks items, from T-shirts and shorts to tote bags and mugs.
Besides the football teams, the Warhawks, like other teams, have cheerleading squads as well, which parents say are every bit as fun for them and the kids.
Off the field, the Warhawks organization nourishes its family-friendly style by sponsoring a number of fundraisers, including a bull roast and a walk for breast cancer.
"It's all good," says Cindy Dagley of Ellicott City, whose 9-year-old son, Connor, plays for the Warhawks. "It's just a good, very family-oriented group. There are lots of parents, lots of grandparents — two grandparents coach his team."
"It's definitely worth all the effort," added Marshall. "When you realize the reach a youth sports league like this has, all that we do, the community involvement. It's most definitely worth it."
Back at Field 5 after the Warhawks 27-0 loss, Ron Wilcom, of Glenelg, was waiting with other parents for his son to come off the field.
Wilcom had announced the game that day, and in that capacity had provided one of those touching moments that make youth football special. While announcing the names of each Warhawks player before the game, he paused at one and intoned, with enthusiasm: "And, my son, James Wilcom!"
After the loss, Witcom the father was as sanguine as Coach DuVall, offering yet another insight into the family-friendly charm of youth football in Howard County.
"Playing a team like this is tough for them," he said, noting the Silver Spring Saints were undefeated. "But they (the Warhawks) played really hard. And really, the whole purpose is for them to just enjoy football, not so much to win or lose."
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