There’s a flag on every play for youths

Coach Henry Gammons of the Cowboys instructs his 5- and 6-year-old players at the first practice for the Charleston Recreation Department’s flag football program.

Henry Gammons had his hands full.

It was late August and the first day of practice for the Cowboys, a group of about a dozen 5- and 6-year-olds who will compete in the Charleston Recreation Department’s fall flag football league. Trying to corral the youngsters long enough to instruct them is a study in patience.

Gammons leads them in a session to loosen their muscles — jumping jacks and touching toes, along with a lap around the small practice area at Ackerman Park on Sycamore Drive in West Ashley.

He divides the players into teams, and then with the help of a team mom begins “suiting them up,” looping on belts with flags seemingly as long as the youngsters are tall. Gammons bounces from offense to defense, instructing the players on what he wants them to do as he conducts a mini-scrimmage.

Gammons, who also coaches T-ball, said he got into the sport because it was something his son, Camden, 6, wanted to do.

“We go out there and have fun, keep the activities going,” said Gammons, whose wife, Chasity, also helps coach. “We try to teach them skills about football. Teaching them this young, by the time they get in high school, they can pick a sport.”

The Charleston Recreation Department has two age groups in its flag football program, with youths 3 and 4 in one division and 5- and 6-year-olds in the next division. Once they reach age 7, youngsters participate in tackle football.

Flag football games, which begin Sept. 22, consist of 6-on-6 and are divided into two 30-minute halves with a 10-minute halftime break. There is an eight-week season with games played at Ackerman Park. The official football is a Nike 500, a youth-size rubber football.

“Seeing the kids getting involved in sports and taking instruction from people other than their parents is remarkable,” said Marvin Gilchrist of the city of Charleston. “It’s a wonderful thing. On Saturdays, we bring out the loudspeakers and encourage the kids. It’s a good introduction to the sport.”