Walk at park stokes love of football

On a warm and sunny August evening, parents and siblings lined a field at Hedges-Boyer Park, their eyes fixed on the Browns, adorned in the familiar brown jerseys and pants and orange helmets.

The whistle blew as the coach shouted instructions. The center snapped the ball and the quarterback made a play.

No it wasn’t Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. making an impromptu trip to Tiffin, but it was rather the Browns of the Tiffin Youth Football League.

During the middle of NFL training camp, here were these youngsters out there learning and practicing ahead of their upcoming season. A walk with Zach Baker, Advertiser-Tribune sports editor, and Ron Schumacher of the Tiffin Youth Football League, brought us to the Bengals, Chiefs and Eagles, each gearing up for the season on their own patch of grass adorned with more spectators than one might expect to see at a primary school team practice.

All four coaches and their assistants were dialed in. Ron told us that three of the four didn’t even have kids currently playing in the league, that they coach because they love the sport and teaching young players. Impressively, the league is free, which makes it another truly special thing in Tiffin.

I love football. I grew up playing in the backyard during halftime of Saturday college games or Sunday NFL games. On Friday nights you could find me at the local stadium, cheering on the team that I would later get the chance to play for when I was in high school. I was not a good athlete, but worked hard and enjoyed every moment of playing under the bright lights.

I covered the Central Michigan University football team while in college and had a ball being a small-town sports editor for the first six years of my professional career. During the last four years, I served as the public address announcer during Friday night football games at the school my wife taught at.

That is why I am so excited to be in Ohio during this upcoming football season. Even this guy from Michigan can admit there is something special about Buckeye State football, and the talent that comes out of this state is staggering. I can’t wait to catch some local high school games and check out college contests on Saturdays. There will be no shortage of options for me.

I’ve had the opportunity to check out a couple of Ohio-State Michigan games in Columbus, and even this Michigan fan was impressed with the passion of OSU fans. (Truly, it was a good experience save for one yahoo who had some choice words for my Maize and Blue. More on that when I write about “The Big Game” in November).

But as I walked through a youth practice on that hot August night, I realized my indoctrination to Ohio football wasn’t at the Horseshoe, nor would it be in Cleveland or Cincinnati.

It was there, on the fields of Hedges-Boyer, where children and their families were soaking in the final weeks before the start of school by being on the gridiron.

That’s what struck me. One might think kids and families would do anything to hang onto the carefree nature of summer, but from elementary school to high school, you found find kids in gyms, fields, trails and golf courses honing their skills upon the beginning of the fall sports season.

As a youth sports coach and believer in the benefits of group activity, I soak it all in. These kids are learning teamwork, fighting through adversity, goal setting and the pleasant reward of progress through repetition.

Yes, while my life is changing once again now that my wife and kids are back to school, I love this time of year. Football and sports are big reasons why. And a short stroll at Hedges-Boyer confirmed what I already know — this is a great place to be a football fan.

Just don’t expect me to become a Buckeye Nut anytime soon!

Jeremy Speer is the publisher of The Advertiser-Tribune. He can be reached at jspeer@advertiser-tribune.com.