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Wilde Lake is the varsity football mentor for young flag football players

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Wilde Lake High School football prides itself on its involvement in the community. One of the biggest successes in this area has been the youth flag football program, which is now set to be significantly expanded.

In 2016, Wilde Lake football coaches and athletes started a flag football program for sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at Harpers Choice Middle School, a feeder school to Wilde Lake. The program takes place every Monday in April and May.

Last spring, Wilde Lake Dr. Calvin Ball and the Howard County Clerk's Office submitted a proposal for a youth program integration grant. The proposal was divided into phases, including summer camps, scrimmages and flag football in 2024. In June, they received a grant worth more than $30,000.

Howard County's Youth Engagement Programming Grants “promote youth activity and engagement in Howard County through free, accessible and supportive programs developed by nonprofit and community organizations,” according to Howard County government.

The grant will allow the program to expand to Wilde Lake Middle School. The Wildecats will run the program at both middle schools beginning April 15 and running every Monday through Memorial Day.

The expanded programming will be highlighted by “Flag Super Bowl” games taking place on a Saturday and to be announced. The sixth, seventh and eighth graders from each middle school compete against each other.

“We always try to find ways to give back to the community, so that was the biggest part,” Wilde Lake football coach Brian Henderson said. “Our guys enjoy it, so it’s one of those things where the best recruiter is another guy. You don't even have to ask, they are usually very eager to bring other children. They'll say, 'Hey coach, a few other players have asked when we're coming over and what are the actual dates?'”

The expansion has only increased enthusiasm for the program.

“There is also pride now that both middle schools are represented,” Henderson said. “You are proud of which middle school you come from. Many of them want to go back to school. Now that we know the two schools are going to be competing against each other, it makes it even more exciting for them to go back and try to help, coach and develop these guys. Then at the end of the day everyone realizes that it comes back into the house and we are all one group, one family.”

The coaches and players take on different roles in the one-hour and 20-minute sessions. Wilde Lake's entire coaching staff is expected to help out, while Henderson estimates there will also be about 30 to 35 players who aren't participating in a spring sport.

At the beginning of each session, coaches and players lead students through warm-up exercises and calisthenics. The approximately 30 to 40 middle school students are then divided into even teams depending on participation and grade level. Some volunteer players act as referees for other coaching teams. Other Wilde Lake football staff members are there to monitor, interpret and assist in any way possible during key decisions.

The structure is based on a conventional football game; the score is recorded and there are also timeouts and penalties. Wilde Lake players and coaches provide coaching points on the field in the heat of competition. They also preach sportsmanship and fighting adversity – two of the program's core principles.

Freshman Jaydin Gore illustrates the benefits of the program. As a child, Gore attended Wildecats skills camps and participated in flag football practice in middle school. He has fond memories of what he said was a fun and energetic practice environment.

“I feel like it translated a lot,” Gore said. “A lot of the things coaches would tell you, it’s not just about scoring touchdowns and making the big plays. They told us the little things in between and told us what really mattered when it came to playing, collaborating and communicating as a team.”

Gore, who made second-team All-County as a freshman, is looking forward to passing on the same lessons.