Flag football for all seasons: Lancaster league gives youth real experience

MANEHIM TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- When the final whistle sounds at the Super Bowl, it may signify the end of "football season," or the stretch from August to early February where tackle football is taking place every weekend.

Football, however, has become a year-round sport, thanks to the rise of flag football. So, when NFL teams begin their off-season, 6th through 8th graders in Lancaster County will soon be starting practice.

The Lancaster Football Association is a flag football league which began in 2007. Its director, Joseph Galante, started it as a way to give area youth more football competition at a time of year they weren't tied down to their school or Pop Warner teams.

Their schedule runs from mid-March until late-May, but practice begins in the chill of winter.

Flag football is also one of the fastest growing youth sports in the country, according to USA Football, the sport's national governing body. In 2015, the sport saw a 8.7 percent rise in participation in kids ages six to 14, the report shows. Tackle football, among kids the same age, only increased 1.9 percent.

As safety concerns with concussions and head trauma become a focal point for parents, flag football offers a safer alternative for children to still play the sport.

In the Lancaster Football Association, Galante uses his league not only as a safety tool, but also to better prepare kids for tackle football season in the late summer and into the fall. The LFA uses real PIAA officials for each game, calling the same penalties one would see in a tackle game.

All games in the Lancaster Football Association are played at Lanco Fieldhouse in East Petersburg.