Some sports, such as basketball and baseball, have been intertwined with Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) play for a generation.
While football has long been a prominent youth sport, it has only recently started to gain traction in the AAU ranks. Many prominent voices from one state in particular hope it never gains a foothold.
According to the AAU website, there are 20 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have AAU football programs, with 16 of those hosting leagues. As the Deseret News recently told it, many high school football coaches in Utah are trying to ensure that their state is not the 21st.
“This is not good for the spirit of high school football,” Herriman (Utah) coach Dustin Pearce, who is also the president of the Utah High School Football Coaches Association, told the Deseret News. “It’s just not. It goes against everything we’ve been trying to accomplish the last little bit with the (State School Board and Utah Legislature).”
Brody Benson, the head coach at Salt Lake City’s Highland High, told the Deseret News that the proposed youth leagues will “decimate” current youth programs like Ute Conference Football, and that the AAU philosophy emphasizes many of the things prep coaches try to eliminate.
“High school football is less than 4 percent of your life,” Benson told the News. “And right now everything is geared toward getting a scholarship and moving on and getting to the next level. The reality is that most of them are not going on. So what do you get out of sports? What are you able to use that you get out of football? That’s where I think we’re missing the boat as a society.”
The commissioner of the new AAU Youth Football league, Adam Arrington, told the News that he and his partner, Jimmy Eaton, began talking in February about the need for an “elite club” football program for little league players.
They have set up two conferences with eight clubs each, with each club responsible for different age-group teams from 11-and-under to 15-and-under. The season is scheduled to start in August and clubs will likely be filled by the end of May.
“I believe the demand is there from the athletes to have an elite club,” said Arrington, who has four boys who play football from elementary school to college.
Arrington said the early response was so positive, the two men decided to seek input on the league from high school coaches. That’s where the fierce opposition came in.
After sending an email on April 20 to 54 high school coaches, Arrington received a great deal of push back for the program designed to serve fifth through ninth graders.
“Our whole thing is, well, we’d like our programs to be ran with the high school coaches’ blessing,” Arrington told the News. “We’d like to have them get involved and work with us. So I decided to send the email … to see if I could start a dialogue, to see if they had any words of advice or any degree of involvement they wanted. … It got pretty ugly, pretty quick. Not only were they not wanting to be involved, they said they would do everything in their power to shut us down. They said they’d make sure their facilities weren’t available to us. They told us we are a joke and they’ll do whatever they can to shut us down.”
Meanwhile, Pearce told the News he sees as much negative in the rise of AAU sports as some see positive gains. In lockstep with Benson’s sentiments, Pearce believes sports have become more about “What can you do for my kid? What can you do for me?” rather than “building character and teaching teamwork.”
The circumstances in Utah certainly open a worthwhile debate as to what level of youth football is accepted by some of the gridiron powers that be in that particular state. In some markets, such as Florida or Texas, the decision to add AAU might not have been met with such opposition.
You can read the rest of the Deseret News story here.