The Orange Bowl Youth Football Alliance Championships, presented by Sports Authority, were held at Alfonso Field at Florida International University in Miami.
The football tournament, in its 15th season, hosts champions from various youth football leagues from the area that compete against each other in eight different weight classes.
“The Orange Bowl Youth committee is dedicated to giving back to the community,” said Larry Wahl, vice president of Communications & Community Outreach for the Orange Bowl. “This tournament affords youth football players from South Florida an opportunity to play in their own ‘Orange Bowl.’ ”
Besides the thrill of competition and the quest to be the champion of champions, competitors in the two-day event are spotlighted in newspapers, online and television. Past participants include Florida State University running back Devonta Freeman, University of Miami defensive back Tracy Howard, Chicago Bears safety Major Wright, New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.
The teams earned the right to compete by winning championships in their local league and in some cases regional playoff games. Even though the Orange Bowl classic -- which this year features Clemson and Ohio State -- is a top collegiate football game on Jan. 3 at SunLife Stadium, the OBYFA Championships is its own prestigious bowl, under the same banner, for younger football talent.
The lessons and experiences gained through these games are invaluable, not just from an athletic standpoint, but for future life skills.
Derrick Spicer, a head coach for the OBYFA finalist Future Youth Bulls of the South Florida National Youth Football League, said: “Football helps throughout life with organization, behavior and transition to real life situations. Even if they don’t make it into the NFL, the core values obtained through competition will produce productive members of society in the future.”
Coaches like Spicer stress academics, determination and effort, not wins and losses.
Parents are subjected to a learning experience as well. They put their trust in coaches to teach other skills.
Cristine Scholz, whose son, Connor, plays for the OBYFA champion Key Biscayne Key Rats, discussed several important benefits of a youth football experience.
She said: “I think it’s fantastic for their self esteem to develop physical strength. It’s both mental and emotional.”
Coaches and parents concur that it is imperative to gain an understanding of teamwork, dedication and effort, and the rewards of participating in the association stretch far beyond the field. The tournament will continue to produce not only winners on the field but more importantly valuable members of the community.
In its 15th season, the Orange Bowl YFA serves more than 16,000 young football players and cheerleaders in nine football leagues across eight South Florida counties and has invested approximately $5 million in youth sports in South Florida since 1999. In addition to its continued support of the Orange Bowl YFA, the Orange Bowl directly supports locally-based festivals and events, including those that provide participatory opportunities to youth from all over the world, such as Junior Orange Bowl, Orange Bowl Sailing Regatta Series, Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships and Orange Bowl Paddle Championships.
• Jacqueline Alman is a sophomore at Scheck Hillel Community School in North Miami Beach.