AFES football program stays true to its initial objective

Clayton on 5th-6th grade league: ‘they’re being taught how to play the game the right way, and how to be a good teammate’

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Members of the Fort Dodge Police Department, who annually serve as volunteer coaches in the AFES football league, look on at Dodger Stadium during a game in 2016.

Entering its fifth season, Fort Dodge’s Athletes For Education and Success tackle football program remains loyal to its original objective: emphasizing fundamentals and encouraging participation in a learning environment.

All while having fun along the way.

“It’s a good introduction to the game for these middle school kids in our community,” said AFES executive director Charles Clayton. “They’re being taught how to play the game the right way, and how to be a good teammate. We’ve had a lot of kids start to develop a real passion for the sport in our league. This is kind of where it all begins.

“I think it’s important, too, to emphasize being around positive male role models and remaining physically active, which are both issues in our society right now. We’ve been very encouraged by the support our community has shown for the program and the relationships it has established. It’s just a great way to kick off the school year.”

The sign-up period continues through Aug. 3 for students going into 5th and 6th grade. After a mini-evaluation camp, practices start Aug. 13. An introductory jamboree is scheduled for Sept. 2, with games being played for five consecutive Sundays inside Dodger Stadium.

Fort Dodge Senior High head coach Matt Miller sees the partnership with AFES as “essential to our program.” Miller, assistant Dan Adams, and other Dodger coaches remain actively involved in helping the league evolve and grow.

“We want these kids to have a good, positive experience with the game of football — and have fun doing so,” Miller said. “That’s been the goal from day one. There are so many things out there about the sport … we just do our best locally to make sure the kids are learning how to play the right way. After all, this is the future.”

Clayton used the annual Fort Dodge Police Department team as an example of “the bonds built outside of being in uniform.” Police officers have served as volunteer coaches in each of the last two seasons, and will do so again this year.

“We can’t thank them enough for helping out,” Clayton said. “That’s been a real highlight. It’s a great way for the kids of our town to get to know many of the first responders, and we’d really like to see even more of them help out in the future.”

As for the stigmas surrounding football in this day and age, Clayton emphasized, “the game is as safe as it’s ever been.”

“All of our head coaches have to gain certification through USA Football, which does a tremendous job of working on fundamentals and proper ways to tackle. More is being done than ever before to make sure kids are learning how to play the right way. We follow (those guidelines) to a T.”

Miller added, “our community has done an outstanding job of supporting this program, which is intended to teach and concentrate on inclusion and safety.”

“I’ve really been impressed by the volunteers and the parents who have kept things going and moving forward for the last four years,” Miller said. “This game still comes down to fundamentals. We continue to work with USA Football to make this the best experience possible for our 5th and 6th graders both on and off the field. Charles’s staff and my staff are on the same page when it comes to that.”

Cost is $60 per player for the entire season, which includes the team T-shirt. For more information or to sign up, go to, or contact the AFES office at (515) 955-2969.