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Park Rapids starts flag football program for kids

Bill Hodge, holding the football, rallies 95 elementary-aged kids Saturday morning at flag football practice. The league started this year. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

For the past four Saturday mornings, Park Rapids area kids have been up and out of the house getting some physical activity.

A flag football league for kids in kindergarten through fourth grade was offered for the first time this fall in Park Rapids.

"Isn't this great?" Bill Hodge asked as he looked across the gymnasium at the 95 kids signed up for the league. He was instrumental in starting the football league.

"My son, Charlie, was in kindergarten last year and wanted to play football," Hodge said.

Football wasn't available for younger kids in Park Rapids. Hodge discovered Nevis had flag football and ended up helping as a coach in Nevis last year.

"I thought, 'Why not try it in Park Rapids?'" he said.

Park Rapids has a tackle football league for fifth- and sixth-graders. Then, kids move onto junior high, then high school football.

By adding flag football for kindergarten through fourth grade there is now a complete feeder program for football, Hodge said.

He worked with varsity coach Aaron Morris to recruit members of the varsity football team to help coach and mentor the beginning players.

Many of the young flag football players hadn't touched a football before.

"This is a ground level, learn the very basics program," Hodge said.

Just keeping kids active and off the couch is important to Hodge.

"Many of these kids would be at home playing video games, watching cartoons or bugging a sibling," he said.

Kids played outside for the first three Saturdays but this last weekend was extremely cold and snowy. The practice was moved inside to a gymnasium.

Football has always been a draw for kids, Hodge said. He is a recess superintendent at Century School one day a week.

Last year, he started bringing a football and kids were instantly drawn to it.

"Kids just left the swings and playground equipment and wanted to play football," Hodge said.

He hopes the program will grow next year and can't wait to see the benefits down the line, in 10 years or so.

"There's nothing that brings a community together like a state champion team," Hodge said.