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‘Padded flag’ league offered for 5th grade football

FD Parks and Rec. Department, new FDSH coach Moser support transitional year on gridiron

Submitted photo Fort Dodge's Nik Moser coaches alongside his nephew, Asle Thorson, last season during a playoff game in Cedar Rapids.

Nik Moser would be the first person to support full-fledged tackle football for fifth graders if he felt like it was the right time and the necessary step.

In addition to being a former Fort Dodge Senior High all-state defensive back and starting safety at Iowa State University, Moser was recently named the Dodgers’ head coach. No one has more of a vested interest in a student-athlete’s development and future on the gridiron than he does.

So when Moser backed a new “padded flag” program being offered by the Fort Dodge Parks and Recreation Department — steering fifth grade football away from traditional tackle and emphasizing a transitional year from flag to the real thing — he made one point abundantly clear: he’d done his homework on the matter.

“Look, if I saw more benefits than concerns with a fifth-grade tackle program, I’d be on board with it,” said Moser, who took over the FDSH program from the retired Matt Miller in March. “We have to emphasize what’s best for our kids, both in terms of their safety and development. And the more I talk to coaches at the highest level, the more we are in agreement that asking kids at that age to function in ‘normal’ tackle football is just unrealistic.

“Football is one of the only sports around where we go from ‘crawling’ with flag to ‘running’ with the same style and game the NFL is playing, basically overnight. We have a participation and a reputation problem in this sport right now. Teaching kids the proper fundamentals and the right way to play at a formative age will help change that.”

This fall’s city program is offering an 8-on-8 game for fifth graders. Helmets and shoulder pads will be used, but flags will as well.

“There will be contact, but it’s going to be more of an introductory or transitional step,” Moser said. “It will give them one year of pads and helmets before they actually start tackling each other. They’ll learn how to block and tackle the right way. It will get them ready for the next level.

“In order for football to be fun, a kid has to know what they’re doing first. It doesn’t do any good to just throw them out there in fifth grade and expect them to get it right away when they’re still in the developmental stages both physically and mentally.”

Moser also confirmed there will be no mixing and matching at the fifth- and sixth-grade levels.

“Sixth grade will be 11-on-11 tackle,” Moser said. “We don’t need fifth and sixth graders going up against each other. They’re not on the same playing field.

“I never want to lose a kid at that age — especially for the wrong reasons. I want them to fall in love with the game because they understand how it’s supposed to be played and why.”

Fort Dodge Parks and Recreation director Lori Branderhorst fully supports the new plan, which includes purchasing of state-of-the-art helmets and coaching requirements through the USA certification program.

“Nik has a vested interest; he’s been very engaged in the conversations about what we can do locally to increase participation levels and place more of an emphasis on technique and progression through learning the fundamentals,” Branderhorst said. “We’ve really been looking for more input and guidance from both the public and parochial coaches in all sports, so that we can better the (parks and rec) experience for the kids. It was great to see coaches like Nik offering their suggestions, and seeing support from (organizations) like the Fort Dodge Gridiron Club.

“Having a son (Reid) who played college football (at Iowa State), I know how important safety and development are at a formative age. So I’m excited about this vision, and we’re happy to provide proper helmets and equipment for the kids. We need to increase our participation numbers. In all of our programs, we want to help the kids see it through, rather than losing them along the way. We’re addressing the ‘why’ in that. I think for football, this is a step in the right direction.”

Fifth- and sixth-graders from across the area are encouraged to participate. Cost is $50 for the season, which runs from Aug. 17 through Oct. 11.

Registration deadline is Aug. 12. Volunteer coaches are needed.

For more information or to sign up, call (515) 576-7237, or visit www.fortdodgeiowa.org and go to the “Parks, Recreation and Forestry” option under the “Your Government” tab.

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