In the home of “Friday Night Lights,” there’s a new spin on its old phrase. (You’re saying it in your head now, aren’t you?)
“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Complete Signatures” is the headline for a Wall Street Journal feature by Kevin Armstrong on a new concept in one youth football league in Odessa, Texas.
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The Permian Basin Youth Football League mandates that each player, from ages 4 to 12, must sign a letter of intent to show their commitment to a youth team in the league. It even includes public “signing ceremonies” just as has become popular with high school athletes signing to play in college.
And if there’s one singular line that points to the absurdity of it all, it’s this from league president Matt Lawdermilk:
“The 4-year-olds play flag,” Matt said. “They can’t sign their name so they just scribble.”
Lawdermilk told WSJ he started the letters in 2014, two years after founding the league, to deter coaches from recruiting players already on a team. As Armstrong writes, “as with so many issues in youth sports, the adults were getting out of hand.”
Coaches would approach parents at major events and recruit their kids. According to WSJ, families went tent to tent at a celebration to get free food and hear coaches’ pitches.
Megan Lawdermilk, the league manager and Matt’s wife, said they “had to draw the line.”
“Once the kids sign, we take a picture of them signing with the coaches so other coaches can’t go and bug ’em, make promises, which they’ve done in the past.”
The players, parents, “Team Mom” and coach all sign contracts stating their commitment to a team. There are approximately 1,500 kids in the league.
The letters are not legally binding, though the parents’ contracts can be terminated and consequences include permanent removal from the league.
The introduction of commitment letters turned into elaborate signing ceremonies centered around birthdays with some players drawing it out like LeBron James’ infamous “The Decision,” according to WSJ.
Champions earn rings, coaches are always on the lookout for talent and parents pay anywhere from $140 for flag to $235 for tackle. (Cheer, grouped with football leagues at the youth level, is upwards of $315.) That’s more than double a standard rate for recreation youth football leagues, even in places with higher costs of living.
All in the hopes it will ultimately lead to a final letter of intent that’s evolved from the scribble.
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