Monday, January 05, 2009

Bowl games for middle schoolers

Yesterday's New York Times reported on the inaugural Football University Youth All-American Bowl, a new and sobering concept. It's a national all-star game for seventh and eighth graders.

A New Jersey company, SportsLink Inc., created the game. It put out a call to parents and kids to send in audition tapes, and was buried with nominations - about 2,000, according to the Times. Of that group, an ultra elite squad of 143 middle school phenoms got calls to come to San Antonio - at the players' expense - for Sunday's game.

Among the kid stars: the sons of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey and NBA legend Karl Malone. One 13-year-old picked for the game - who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 280 pounds - is so big "that he has never been allowed to play organized football." Another is a field-goal kicking whiz. He attended a Pittsburgh Steelers camp and split the uprights from 45 yards.

Thrilling. Except, of course, college coaches and a youth sports expert quoted in the piece stopped well short of calling a national all-star game for kids still living the middle-school life a good idea. Or even a healthy one.

Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly: "It's a slippery slope, and I'm a little bit queasy about it."

Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State: "What we're worried about here is too much too soon."

No doubt, the promoters of the game were elated with the Times article - skepticism and all - and the national spotlight it is shining on their project. It's the old PR adage: Any publicity is good publicity.

But after reading the article, the voices of concern stick with me. Here's a suggestion. If you doubt the wisdom of a national bowl game for 12-year-olds, complain to the following companies: Russell Athletics, Schutt Sports, Athletic Republic, World Sporting Goods and SI for Kids. Football University lists each as a corporate sponsor.

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