A day after high school football kicked off its season at South Aiken's Stomping Grounds, it was Aiken County Youth Football's turn to get started with its Kickoff Classic jamboree.
All three age groups hit the field at South Aiken on Saturday for the league's seven teams – Aiken Tigers, Center Chiefs, East Aiken Chargers, New Ellenton Blue Devils, Northside Bears, PAL Panthers and Southside Bulldogs.
Charles Groover, lead chair for the league and administrator for the Tigers, said that the money from the event is key to the league's efforts to offset costs.
“The Kickoff Classic is always our biggest turnout, our biggest fundraiser,” Groover said.
After the fundraising efforts are complete, Groover said the cost per player is about $100 per player for the three-month season, with teams practicing three or four times a week for two hours or so at a time. Tigers' players also get a practice jersey and game jersey to keep.
“To me, this is best deal to get your kids in shape and off the couch,” Groover said.
Having the players in shape hasn't been an issue at the league's three age groups – 7- and 8-year-olds, 9- and 10-year-olds and 11- and 12-year-olds. Groover said handling the heat can be an adjustment process with practices starting in August, but he said he can't recall any heat-related illness incidents.
“In general, most of the kids that come out ... most of the kids can run circles around us,” he said.
One factor that is important is getting the kids prepared to take on the physical requirements of the game itself, said Brian Parks, assistant coach for the Northside Bears 7- and 8-year-olds. To help with that, head coach Tyrone Jones leads the team in a warm-up and stretching session prior to playing.
“It's a real big issue,” Parks said. “It takes from here up to the high school level. ... They're always going to need stretching. Always.”
Another safety concern that directly relates back to the cost to participate is concussion prevention. The players are given a Schutt helmet to use, which is sent back to the company to be refurbished every two to three years.
“Our incidents of concussions are very low,” Groover said. “I would say less than five percent.”
Contributing to the relatively low number of injuries overall is the officiating in place for the league. This year, SCISA officials led by Randy Boley will be keeping an eye on things using high school rules, which ban spearing, facemask infractions, horse collar tackles and other maneuvers that introduce a higher risk for major injury.
“I would say, without a scientific model ... overall, we've had very little injury,” Groover said.
The officials' group also distributes concussion prevention materials to the coaches, so that everyone can be on the same page about how to handle head injuries.
The league will start regular season games on Sept. 3, when the Bulldogs play the Blue Devils at New Ellenton Middle, the Chargers play the Bears at Aiken High and the PAL Panthers play the Center Chiefs at South Aiken.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.