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Fledgling high school football league needs players, funding

Richard Feero is facing a decision he hasn’t had to make since he and fellow Greater New England Youth Football League founder Harris “Buddy” Smart started the league in 2009.

Feero is putting his Kenduskeag Knights team on hiatus this season due to low numbers and funding. He is reaching out to the communities surrounding Bangor to support the Kenduskeag Knights and Milo Patriots teams so that they can field a team each fall.

“We’re trying to get the word out. We’ve never had any kind of exposure; it’s been word of mouth this whole time even though we’ve been doing it now for five years and accomplished a lot,” Feero said. “We just want to get the word out so that everybody knows who we are and what we’re about. It’s tough not getting the support from the areas to sustain the teams.”

One of the league’s primary goals is to offer a varsity-level football league to student-athletes who attend high schools that do not field a football team sanctioned by the Maine Principals’ Association. With Kenduskeag merging with Milo in the upcoming season, there will be six teams in two divisions in 2013. The North Division consists of the St. John Valley Mustangs of Madawaska, the Aroostook Huskies of Caribou, and the County Renegades of Hodgdon while the South Division features the Milo Patriots, Central Maine Eagles of South China and Medomak Panthers of Waldoboro.

“There are a lot more high schools out there than there are football teams and there are a lot of kids out there that aren’t built for sports like soccer,” Feero said.

A player from defending champion St. John Valley Mustangs has caught the attention of the University of Maine football program, according to Feero.

“[Students in some towns] are missing out of the opportunities like playing the game of football and possibly going to the next level,” he said.

Startup costs for a team run at $10,000, but if a team already has all the equipment and uniforms, the cost of a team for one season is in the $5,000 range. Greater New England Youth Football League teams don’t have budgets funded by town tax dollar like high school teams, and must rely on fundraising efforts, community support and sponsorships. Ninety percent of the Kenduskeag Knights funding has come from Feero’s personal business.

“The biggest thing with the teams in the league, especially the situation with Kenduskeag and Milo, is lack of funding. That was our biggest hurdle. Football is an expensive sport, and to get what we needed out of the community to save the teams is difficult because you don’t have a school athletic department funding it,” Feero said.

Feero also says that a lack of a feeder program for the Kenduskeag and Milo teams has created a lack of competitive balance within the league.

“In order to have a strong team in this league, you really have to have a feeder program so that when kids come into the league in ninth grade they know what the game is. All the other teams in the league have a feeder program so that the kids get into football way before they reach high school,” Feero said.

“I know the Central Maine team has 120 kids just in their feeder program, and they are always strong every year for that reason,” he added. “They get a lot of support from the community, and they are very well known.”

Feero says he’d like to have 25 players on a team to remain competitive. This season’s Kenduskeag team only had 13, with most of them younger players.

“I had a year where we played games with 15 or 16 kids. Not that we weren’t competitive, but when you have a team with 30 or 40 kids you can put fresh legs in instead of having to play Iron Man all day,” Feero said.

Even though the league is not school affiliated, the league’s by-laws are similar to the MPA to offer a comparable experience.

“The biggest thing we do not want to do is hurt the soccer programs in the schools. We are looking at kids who don’t want to play soccer and their only other options are golf and cross country,” Feero said. “You start getting up to northern Maine with those kids who work out in the woods and on the farms, they’re not golf players. They are missing a golden opportunity to play football. I played football for Old Town in the ‘80s; I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”

Playing a fall high school sport and in the Greater New England Youth Football League takes a special kid, according to Feero, but it is possible.

“[Playing two sports] depends on the athletic directors. Some won’t let kids play if they are playing a school sport because we are not school affiliated. However I had a kid two years ago who played soccer and after practice would come up to football practice and played both sports throughout the year,” Feero said.

Even though the Kenduskeag Knights will not be on the field this year, Feero hopes that they can have a successful season with the Patriots to show the community that the league is worth supporting for the future.

“With us joining Milo, we’re going to create a team that also doesn’t have a feeder program, create a team that can go into the playoffs, win a majority of our games and possibly show these towns that their kids can win some games against other teams that do so well,” Feero said. “We’re going to work hard this year to build up numbers to try get back on board next year. “

Student-athletes or business interested in the Greater New England Youth Football, may contact Richard Feero at 207-745-2418 or email at gnyfl09@live.com. Buddy Smart can be reached at 207-356-2590 or at elecsolutions@yahoo.com.

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