An Interview with Michael Cihon FLAG FOOTBALL IS: Similar to the sport of contact football except there is no contact at all, including no tackling and no blocking. It has all the logistics and strategy of the traditional game, but without the impact. USFTL HISTORY: The organization has been around since 1988 and offers programs for both youth and adults. Youth play is co-ed. It starts at ages 3-4, and moves up: 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-17, 18 and over (which we think of as adult play) and 35 and over. We are contemplating a 50 and over league. We currently have people playing who are over the age of 60. Sports Destination Management: There has been a lot of concern about concussions and a lot of coverage about former pro football players who have sustained head injuries. Has USFTL seen more enrollment because flag football is a non-contact sport? Michael Cihon: Yes – the sport is experiencing a boom across the United States. Parents like their children being involved in a sport and staying active, and they love the fact that it’s a very safe sport. Plus, you have to realize this: you cannot teach the love of contact. A lot of people love the game but hate hitting the ground. In flag football, they get a chance to learn the rules and play the game, and the worst thing that happens is someone gets their flag pulled off. SDM: Are the adult leagues flourishing too, since older players want to avoid too much impact? Cihon: They are. In fact, we have a huge adult membership because of that. You’re don’t see the catastrophic injuries you see in tackle football. Certainly, there are bumps and bruises and muscle injuries, but nothing like you see in the full contact version. SDM: What is the structure of the USFTL season? Cihon: Teams play throughout the season, and there are state and regional finals. Winning teams get to play in what we call the Super Bowl of Flag Football, which takes place every year over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend in Kissimmee, Florida. Sites for various tournaments are determined by a bidding process coordinated by our office. SDM: USFTL is affiliated with the NFL-Flag program. Is there a competition between the two organizations for players or facilities? Cihon: Not really; we all have the same goal: get the kids playing and make them fans of the sport at a young age. Both organizations work together to coordinate their calendars of events, and make sure the rules are consistent. We’re both growing our brands, and we can coexist without competing. SDM: What misconceptions do people have about touch football? Cihon: People remember playing it in gym class or as an intramural pick-up sport. They often think that this is just something unstructured you do for fun. And while it is fun, it can also be very competitive; in fact, it can be a lifelong sport. We even have a USFTL Hall of Fame. It’s the ultimate team sport; every person who is playing is totally engaged. And unlike a lot of other sports, it’s not a place where you can rely on just one star player to carry the team. You have to all be working together. SDM: In your estimation, is flag football a sport whose time has come? Cihon: Yes, it has so much going for it. It’s fun, it’s competitive and it teaches the rules of the sport. If kids want to take those skills and that knowledge of the game and use them later to play tackle football, they can. Currently, a lot of people love football, but they don’t play because they don’t want the contact or they can’t make the team. This gives them an option other than sitting on the couch and playing Madden. Of course, I didn’t make my high school team so I played flag football. It’s kind of a good thing Madden wasn’t around; I might have played that instead and missed all this.
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