A new statewide flag football league has been formed by two ardent advocates of the noncontact version of the sport.

Amos Goss, who has grown the Scarborough Youth Football flag program to well over 100 participants, is the president of the Maine Flag Football League. The vice-president is Josh Wolfgram, who oversaw Portland Youth Football’s flag program.

The Maine Flag Football League was created to formalize scheduling between communities for flag football leagues in the greater Portland area, and beyond if the need exists, Goss said.

“Every town in the greater Portland area that has flag football, they’re all growing, both in participants and age level offering,” Goss said. “Josh and I have been facilitating intertown play for the last three to five years but it had gotten so big. We felt it would be irresponsible not to create something bigger than the two of us. Now there’s an infrastructure, a board, that will outlast either one of ours’ involvement.”

The league already has over 60 teams and 400 participants from 10 towns in its kindergarten to grade 5 levels (6-and-under, 8U and 10U). Each town/team is affiliated with NFL Flag, which is sponsored by the National Football League. For players in the 10U and younger groups, registration will still take place at the town level.

The Maine Flag Football League is also promoting flag football for middle school age players with its 12-and-under (essentially 7th and 8th graders) and 14U (8th and 9th grade) divisions. Interested players in these age groups will register directly at the MFFL website, maineflagfootball.com.

Goss said he expects at least four teams in the 12U level this fall. The 14U division is uncharted territory. That age group did not grow up with organized flag football, Goss said.

“I have no idea what the interest is (for 14U) but if the New Hampshire leagues and Massachusetts leagues are any indicator the demand will be there,” Goss said. He added that current flag participation indicates that in five years “it wouldn’t surprise me to see us having 10 teams in each” middle school age division.

Flag football has grown in popularity locally and nationally over the past decade, while traditional youth tackle football numbers have dropped.

Across the United States, participation on tackle football teams among kids aged 6 to 12 declined by nearly 17 percent from 2010 to 2017, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Flag football participation increased by nearly 18 percent during the same years.

In southern Maine, Scarborough and Portland have been hotbeds for the growth of flag football. Both programs had over 100 players in grades K-6 in 2018.

South Portland Youth Football has announced it will shift completely to flag football for students in grades K-5 by 2020, with flag-only for grades K-4 this year.

In January, the Maine Chapter of the National Football Foundation went on record in support of playing flag football until players reach adolescence.

“I’ve always been a believer in flag football but the more I’ve read, the more I believe in it,” said John Wolfgram, a National Football Foundation member and father of Josh Wolfgram of the Maine Flag Football League. John Wolfgram won 309 games and 10 state titles as a high school football coach, and now serves as an assistant at Cheverus High.

The NFL Flag model is a noncontact, five-on-five game. The only lineman is the center, who is also eligible to catch a pass.

Some parents prefer flag football because it lessens concerns about serious injuries, particularly concussions and repetitive blows to the head. Players like it for a simpler reason, Goss said.

“It’s just that flag football is fun. It’s so fast-paced. You’re either the quarterback, running back or wide receiver on every play and that’s what kids want to do,” Goss said. “I can design a play to make anyone a star on that given play. People love that about flag. The safety element is an element but it’s not the only element.”

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