After a three-decade absence, youth-league tackle football has returned to Miami Shores.
Head coach David W. Batchelder Jr., a lawyer, has worked with his defensive coordinator, Andres Bejerano, and others for two years to return the sport to the Shores.
On Aug. 16, three Shores teams — ages 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12 — ran onto the field for the community’s first regular-season games since 1983. They played at the Hammocks’ Warrior Field in Kendall.
The Shores lost all three games. But the fact that the 11-12 team battled Hammocks through a scoreless tie at halftime before losing 12-0 was considered a promising result.
“It was exciting. I was a little nervous because they were so much bigger than us, and it looked like they were in better shape,” said Charlie Calli, 12, a Shores tight end and defensive tackle. “But otherwise, I was just thrilled.”
Calli said it was his first time playing tackle football, which was the case for many of the 65 Shores kids who played on the three teams.
Given the players’ inexperience, recent news about concussions and the long-lasting damage that playing football has caused for a number of former NFL players, it’s not surprising that Batchelder had to convince some mothers that it was safe for their kids play in his program.
“I’ve had to convince a lot of Shores moms that this was a good thing for their boys,” Batchelder said. “I have two boys [who play for Shores], and my wife was kind of reticent about it.
“But once she saw all the training that [the coaches] had to do and how we were implementing the ‘Heads Up’ program, she was sold.”
Officials at USA Football “are so concerned with head injuries — rightfully so — that the focus is [on] how to tackle correctly with your head up,” Batchelder said.
Batchelder explained that players are taught to go “straight in — it’s what they call a rip and grip. You throw uppercuts with your hands. And by forcing your arms up, your head is up.”
Perhaps it was all the training, but the players didn’t seem to be bothered by potential injuries even as they faced larger opponents.
“I don’t care if they are bigger than me,” Calli said. “I just keep playing, and I don’t care if I get hurt.”
Loren Kretzschmar, a 12-year-old center and nose guard, said the prospect of injuries “kind of” scares him now that he has seen them in televised NFL and college games. But he leaves those thoughts behind when he hits the field.
“I just try to focus on my game — not on all the bad parts,” he said. “I focus on how we can do better to beat this team we are up against.”
His father, Loren Kretzschmar Jr., knows about injuries. He’s a former Shores football player from the days before the program was disbanded.
“I broke my neck playing football when I was 13,” he said. “Mine was a rotating break, so I didn’t sever anything. I was lucky.”
Despite his injury, which happened when his face mask was yanked, Kretzschmar supports his son playing football.
“You can’t have them live in a plastic bubble,” he said. “Is he going to hate me if I don’t let him play?
“He loves it, and it gives him lessons in teamwork and leadership. This is good for him.”
Even though all three Shores team lost in their debuts — the 9-10-year-olds lost 20-6 and the 7-8’s lost 28-0 — many of the parents were pleased.
“It’s our first year, and I think we are doing fantastic,” the elder Kretzschmar said. “[Hammocks] has been around as a program for 30 years, and they are supposed to be one of the better teams in our league.
“Ninety percent of our kids have never even seen pads, let alone wear them and play tackle football. To be 0-0 at half [in the 11-12 game] — I’m very happy.”
There were no significant injuries in any of the games, Bejerano said.
Why the Shores program was discontinued in 1983 is a bit of a mystery. Batchelder has heard several theories: The population shifted, and there wasn’t as much interest in tackle football. There were also some injuries, and the team wasn’t very competitive.
Now it’s back, but before the program could be reborn, a home field had to be found. Bejerano is grateful that Miami Country Day School allowed the Shores kids to use its facility.
“Without that,” Bejerano said, “we don’t have a program.”
The 10-game regular season runs through Oct. 18, with playoffs extending into November.
Miami Country Day School Athletic Director Chuck Sennett, whose son Tanner, 8, plays on the Shores’ youngest team, said he was thrilled with how Opening Day turned out.
“I think it’s great for the community,” Sennett said. “My son went to bed [on Friday] with a smile on his face, and then he got up right away and put his pads on. He was so happy and excited.
“When you learn how to play the game the right way, it’s a safe and fun sport.”
To learn more about the Shores football program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.