The new league will play its games at Premier Sports Campus.
Vishal Kakkad could not understand the hype.
A native of India who traveled to the United States for graduate school, Kakkad attended the University of Florida.
Saturday afternoons were full of tailgating, and for what? It was this strange sport called football, 11 players on each side, with starts and stops after each play. Coming from a soccer and cricket country, Kakkad did not see the appeal, but he tried to learn as much as he could to fit in.
A Sunday night televised football game involving the Green Bay Packers showed Kakkad the light. A Brett Favre perfect spiral for a touchdown was his stairway to football heaven.
“I was thinking, ‘How is that even possible?’” Kakkad said.
He began studying the sport like it was his job. A year later, when Kakkad returned to Florida, he knew more than all of his classmates, he said. A fan was born.
Five years ago, when Kakkad’s son, Yash Kakkad, took an interest in the game, he placed him into a Bradenton flag football league and coached his team. It was fun for both of them, he said, but the more involved he got with the youth sports community, the more he saw a glaring hole. He felt there needed to be a flag football league in Lakewood Ranch, specifically at Premier Sports Campus.
Now, thanks to Kakkad’s efforts, there is. Next month, the Premier Flag Football League will open its inaugural season to boys and girls ages 5-14. The league is a partner of NFL Flag Football, the largest flag football organization in the country.
That means kids will receive high-quality jerseys with the logos of NFL teams, coaches will get access to league coaching tips and teams will be eligible for NFL Flag Football regional (and, potentially, national) tournament games, held across the country in the winter. Premier’s fall season will run from Sept. 21 to Nov. 9, with a winter season beginning in January and a spring season in March, giving kids the most football possible. All regular season games will be at Premier Sports Campus.
There will also be a free clinic held Aug. 24 at Premier for kids potentially interested in the league. The clinic will run from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and involve running, passing and catching drills. Registering online at premiernflflag.com will make participants eligible for prize.
Kakkad, who works as a traffic engineer for Manatee County, said he loves watching tackle football, but believes flag football is the safest way for developing children to play the game while still having fun.
“There is nothing 13- or 14-year-old kids cannot learn from playing flag football other than tackling,” Kakkad said. “I am worried about concussions. They come from the repetition of hits during the hours of practice each week. This (flag football) keeps the risk of concussions to a minimum while having the same level of fun and learning.”
Kakkad said he knows a lot of tackle football youth coaches, including some with the East Manatee Bulldogs, are responsible and teach Heads Up Football, a program designed to limit injury risk through safer tackling techniques as well as increasing knowledge on injury recognition. But that mitigated risk is still greater than having no tackling at all.
I played youth tackle football for a few years myself. I still love the game. I also understand Kakkad's perspective. The more we learn about the nature of head injuries, the more the game is going to change. Flag football isn't a perfect solution — kids accidentally run into each other, so injuries still happen — but it makes things as safe as possible. And girls already play flag at the high school level, so this is great preparation for them.
For parents who agree, Kakkad’s league is a great opportunity to start kids in the sport. The cost is $180 per player, per season, with a $20 discount if you register before Sept. 7. For more information or to register, visit premiernflflag.com or send an email to [email protected].