Arbutus youth program an autumn family tradition

The sight and scent of smoke signaled the grill was working at the concession stand late Saturday morning near the athletic fields at Arbutus Middle School.

Shouts from young cheerleaders and intermittent whistles from the officials provided the background sound as young football players, former players and parents wearing black Arbutus Golden Eagles T-shirts mingled on the school's campus Sept. 15.

Fall means another full Saturday of gridiron action on the field sandwiched between Shelbourne and Sulphur Spring roads whenever the Mid-Maryland Youth Football and Cheer League's schedule has the Arbutus Athletic Association's recreation teams at home. The contests began with the home team's 6-8 in red, white and gold taking the field at 9 a.m. and ended with the 11-13 age group's kickoff after 6 p.m.

From his folding chair along the top of the hill overlooking the field late Saturday morning, Arbutus resident Bill Shappel enjoyed the action and sunshine.

"Just watching football, and getting out of the house," said the eastern Pennsylvania native, a 33-year Arbutus resident who was wearing a purple Ravens T-shirt to match his purple Ravens hat. "I've been coming up here for many years."

This weekend, the Golden Eagle program will celebrate its 86th anniversary with a special parade then pep rally beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, followed by another full day of football games on Saturday, Sept. 23.

"Friday's a big deal," said Shelly Howard, coach of the Golden Eagles 12-and-under cheerleading squad who also has sons Roland, 10, and Preston, 8, on the 8-10 Arbutus teams.

She estimated 1,000 people will attend the upcoming festivities, which will also included face painting and other activities for the younger crowd on Saturday.

"People who played for us 40 years ago will come back. People who played for us two years ago will be coming back," said Howard, whose father, Marvin March, was actively involved with the youth football program for 35 years.

Howard said she was part of the cheerleading program from age 5 to age 14 and wanted her sons to also be involved.

"They get to learn responsibility, be on time, teamwork, how to work with people from different areas and places," she said. "They also learn sportsmanship. We teach a ton of sportsmanship. And pride. They are so proud of it. Everybody is, when you've been around for 86 years."

Howard noted that while not all the Golden Eagle players and cheerleaders are Arbutus residents, that doesn't mean the local connection is not present.

"We get a lot of people from Howard County, Anne Arundel County, whose kids are here because this is where they grew up," she said.

Behind the end zone, Baltimore resident Jane Christian was settling in to enjoy lunch and one of the day's seven games against visiting Oakdale from Frederick County. Her 10-year-old son, Shawn, had joined the football program last year and her 7-year-old daughter, Tashia, was with the cheerleading program this year.

She said she liked the lessons her children were learning in leadership, teamwork and sportsmanship.

"The coaches are really good with the kids," she said.

She said she also appreciated the community support.

"I like how the parents all come together. Even at the away games, we're really deep (along the sidelines)," she said. "It's definitely family-oriented."

Arbutus resident Matt Kuhn's connection with the program began as a player, continued as a coach and is now solidified as president of the Arbutus Athletic Association. His brother played and his father and uncle both coached.

Most of the members of the association's board were raised in the program, he said.

Kuhn's mother, Sherry, and father, Steve, are both members of the association's hall of fame as is he.

He said many of the hall's 51 members are expected to attend this weekend's celebration, which will also include appearances by the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department and the Arbutus Sailorettes marching unit.

"What sets us apart from most organizations is we have history," he said. "A lot of people played for us as kids, moved away, but bring their kids back. We strive to make it a family atmosphere."

He said he has noticed some differences from when he played.

"It's not a good difference, unfortunately," he said. "People these days treat youth football as more than it is. They take it too seriously. They forget they have a child there to have fun."

Kuhn said the program this season has approximately 300 kids, ages 6-13, along with 30-40 coaches, on its eight football teams. There are also more than 100 girls, ages 4-13, on the three cheerleading squads.

This weekend's event will involve all the programs. The 5-6 age group will play under the lights at 7:30 p.m. Friday and the 6-8 age group team will take on the Arbutus Big Red semipro football team in a special exhibition.

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