WHEN YOU have been around youth sports for as long as Kevin Leonard has, and that's about 30 years, you accept the cliche that the only constant in sports - and kids - is change.
You experience changes in play, equipment, people and organizations. You see a lot of problems, as well as possibilities and potential.
That helps explain an idea Leonard has been floating in recent weeks. It is one that football fans may find tantalizing.
Leonard would like to see a football league formed in Howard County of middle-school players. Teams would be defined by the county's public high school districts.
The league would feature unlimited play, unlimited meaning without the weight maximums that most youth football organizations impose for safety.
"I think each high school would be more than happy to cooperate informally with such a league," Leonard said, adding that support could come in the way of clinics for youth coaches, as well as the development of play books.
"It would give each school a feeder system that could improve play a great deal," he said.
Oh, don't gasp, dear school board members, administrators and politicians. Leonard is not proposing that taxpayer dollars pay for such a league. Parents would still pay the bills, as they do now, for pre-high school participation. But those bills wouldn't necessarily have to be higher than they are now.
Leonard, a business-technical writer who lives in Jessup, has coached most sports at one time or another, including a long stay in baseball with the Savage Boys and Girls Club. For the past five years, he has been JV football coach at Hammond High School.
Thus, he said, he sees needs that could be addressed by forming a new league, not least among them the different ways the county's youth football organizations teach the game.
Because of weight restrictions that all but one of the county's seven youth football clubs use, Leonard said it is not unusual for freshmen to arrive "out of position," once they're mixed with older, more mature, and generally bigger, faster and stronger upperclassmen.
He said he believes that a new league could be fostered by the county Department of Recreation and Parks, which administers four of the seven youth football groups.
Several of those groups have geographic leanings - the Columbia Ravens, the Columbia Community Church Warriors, the Western Howard County Warhawks and the Elkridge Hurricanes. But others are more generally focused - the Howard County Trojans, the Howard County Bulldogs and the Howard County Bruins.
All of the clubs, except the Bruins, field age-group teams in the Central Maryland Football and Cheerleading Association. The Bruins are an unlimited group, formed to serve youngsters bigger than those permitted by weight restrictions used by the other clubs.
Interest in the sport seems to have increased in the past couple of years, with the Hurricanes, Ravens and Warhawks starting up in the past three years.
Why this middle-school idea now, though?
Said Leonard, who will broach his idea before the rec department's advisory board this year: "With lights being put in all of the county's high school stadiums, football is going to take off here."
Along the sidelines
LACROSSE: You would think that with all the female players rolling out of youth organizations, high schools and colleges, there would been more than enough interest to start a women's lacrosse league locally.
The county rec department is trying to do that but got just enough participants to form two teams this spring. It's a start, said Kelly Keefer, the sports supervisor leading the effort. She's now talking up a summer league for women, hoping for more participants. Call her at 410-332-1679.
SPECIAL OLYMPICS: About 300 competitors from at least 10 Maryland counties are competing in softball today at Kiwanis-Wallas Park in Ellicott City, beginning at 9:15 a.m.
This is the seventh annual invitational put on by Special Olympics of Howard County at the county-owned baseball-softball complex that the Howard County Youth Program maintains and operates.
Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.