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“More Teaching, Less Yelling”: A New Spring Flag Football League for Palm Coast

| December 9, 2011

Sam Sword, a member of the Wolverines\’ 1997 championship team and a former NFL linebacker, wants to deemphasize competition and play up sportsmanship and skills in the new flag football league he\’s launching at Ralph Carter Park. (© FlaglerLive)

For a former NFL linebacker who could stare you down with his 244 pounds—he played with the Oakland Raiders and the Indianapolis Colts—Sam Sword’s voice is remarkably gentle, his demeanor easy going: precisely the sort of gentleness and easy going nature he wants to bring to the new spring flag football league he’s launching in Palm Coast for 6 to 14 year olds.

“It’s a joint venture between the city of Palm Coast and Palm Harbor Academy. I was tasked to lead the process of starting this league,” Sword says. Gilliard Glover, the founder of Palm Harbor Academy, had approached him after Glover had had contact with the city.

To Register for the Flag Football League:

  • Call Sam Sword at 386/627-6803 or the Palm Coast Parks and Recreations department at 386/986-2323.
  • The league is looking for coaches and volunteers. High school students looking to fill community hours may also apply as volunteers.

“The city recognizes a need for flag football and we were willing to assist them in establishing activities in that area,” Glover said. “So it’s a mutual need. Kids need activities and any way we can participate and help them we’re available to do so.”

The season will last from March 3 through April 21. It’ll cost $40 per student, with some alternatives for those who can’t afford it. Students will get a full reversible uniform (“it’s like two uniforms in one”), plus a sponsorship t-shirt, a trophy, a year-end party, and various, exciting events each weeks, such as having NFL players skyping in from time to time with inspirational messages or shooting video messages that reinforce good habits on the field and at home. The students will practice once a week at Ralph Carter Park. That day has not been set. And they’ll have matches once a week, on Saturdays, also at Ralph carter Park.

“I’m hoping that with the price, the timing, we’ll get a lot of kids,” Sword says. “We’re going to level them up and just teach them the game.” The emphasis will be on a non-competitive, non-aggressive approach: no coaches yelling at kids, no militaristic drills. It’s about learning the skills of the game, the fundamentals, and loving to play.

Larry Foote, a two-time world champion who currently plays with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was excited to hear of Sword’s plan. “He’s going to be a sponsor,” Sword said, helping the league financially, and letting the league use him in advertising if necessary. “He’s going to bless us with his presence in March or April. I feel it’s a great opportunity for the Flagler kids to be able to put their hand on a professional athlete, to ask him questions, to talk to him. That’s big for the kids.” The actual day with Foote hasn’t been set, but once it’s in place, it’ll be open to any child in the county, not just those in the flag football league.

There is another flag football league in town, of course: the Phantom League Flag Football & Cheer, which has been running since last fall at Ralph Carter Park and also has a spring league, with some 200 students enrolled each season, says T.J. Rosenthal, one of the league’s chief organizers. League organizers and parents involved in the league have attributed the rehabilitation of Ralph Carter Park as a safer place to be to their league’s nightly presence there. (Registration for that league started earlier this month, with practices beginning in February and the last game scheduled for mid-May.)

Oddly, Palm Coast officials did not speak to Rosenthal of the projected new league, or how the two league would coordinate fields and schedules. Nor did Glover or Sword. “I haven’t heard anything directly from the city of Palm Coast about the league at all. Obviously it would have been nice,” Rosenthal said. A few weeks ago, the league and other youth sports organizations raised serious and vocal objections to the Palm Coast City Council over the city administration’s plans to start charging the youth teams lighting and field preparation fees based on a forumal the teams said would be prohibitive. The flag football league charges $70 per student per season. That cost would have had to go up by perhaps $10 based on the city’s fee structure. The council forced the administration to back off the plan, and negotiate a better approach with the teams. Those negotiations have not taken place, Rosenthal said, so the leagues continue playing under old arrangements—as would, presumably, the new flag football league.

The Phantom League plays at Ralph Carter Park every afternoon, taking up most of the fields. The league is typically done at 8:30 p.m. How the new flag football league will fit in is an open question. Numerous phone calls and emails to Palm Coast Parks and Recreation’s director, Luanne Santangelo, and Lauren Bennett, a supervisor Sword said was the liaison for the new league, were not returned. Glover says he doesn’t foresee any conflicts between the two leagues, but he, too, could not say how the practices would be coordinated. “I wasn’t aware of the other league,” Glover said, though he noted that there’s enough children in the county for a multiplicity of leagues.

To Sword, it’s not about competition—whether it’s with another league or within his own league. His primary aim is to provide children with an affordable way to play flag football. “If I raise more money, I’d lower the price, but right now it’s $40, and I don’t think you’re going to find a cheaper league in the area, Sword said. “My only concern was, let’s try to make this the most affordable league around, because I didn’t want cost to be a factor for any kid that wants to play.”

Sword, who’s married to Raven Sword, the Palm Coast attorney who ran for the Flagler County School Board a little over a year ago, is a math teacher at Hastings Youth Academy, the juvenile center for high-risk youth in St. Johns County. “I’ve always had that passion of just working with kids and trying to give back. I had a lot of friends that made bad decisions, and these kids are incarcerated. So it’s just an opportunity to teach them and mentor them and try to get them on the right track and becoming productive citizens.” Sword has four nephews in prison in Alabama. He took a different route through football. He graduated the University of Michigan and was on the Wolverines’ 1997 championship team.

“I know the game,” Sword said. “We’re going to teach teamwork, we’re going to teach sportsmanship. Everybody is going to play. Winning is not going to be everything.” There’s not going to be dancing when scoring touchdowns, for instance. And there will be “more teaching, less yelling.”

And there will be, Sword hopes, recurring and memorable life lessons that the students themselves may not be immediately aware of. Providing them the opportunity to play is the inherent benefit, with immeasurable results beyond the field. “Sports saved my life,” Sword says. “If I didn’t have sports, I could have been just like my friends—incarcerated. I would have been incarcerated.”

(© FlaglerLive)

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26 Responses for ““More Teaching, Less Yelling”: A New Spring Flag Football League for Palm Coast”

  1. w.ryan says:

    When I hear that someone has an emphasis on children it brightens my day. Sam Sword has been doing his share of giving back to the community. He has been through it all and was rescued through sports. We should all support his efforts and encourage full participation by everyone in the community. Looking forward to this new football league.

  2. Thank you for the great article FlaglerLive!

  3. Ralph Lightfoot says:

    The creation of this new league is a real positive move for the community. I wish you great success.

  4. JIM GUINES says:


  5. palmcoaster says:

    What about all business in this county that can afford to donate $40 per one child that can’t afford it, per season contribute? I would.
    This league will keep this kids doing something positive and out of trouble.

  6. Liana G says:

    And they’ll all be wearing uniforms! And be paying for the privilege of being subjected to such gastly irrelevant mind control – not the important text book math, english, science, music, chemistry, biology, history, art (yep,concepts that are taught and are utilized on that nice clean blank canvas/paper devoid of any form of distraction that can intefere with an artist’s focus) – all the important lessons that will help prepare them for a decent living! Oh the horror! Especially since these will certainly get dirty and smelly everytime they’re worn. Just pointing out a fallacy of the no uniform argument.

    Totally supportive of this initiative by Mr Sword. Our young men need more positive outlets and opportunities to foster strong male support, bonding, and self worth. Kudos!

    • Come on Man! says:

      This is not about uniforms. Uniforms don’t make a kid. Having responsible adults teaching kids makes a world of difference. Adults taking responsibility in a kids life make differences. Some great coaches at Buddy Taylor had the kids say this every day at practice and after each game:
      Do Right !
      Be Accountable !
      No Excuses !
      Work Hard !
      Do your Best !
      They always stressed that it is a privilege to be out there on the field and that academics come first. These kids came a long way this year with some of these young men changing their attitude and becoming fine young men in OUR community. They were also told to shoot for the moon……..Even if you miss you are among stars. This is molding OUR kids for tomorrow, not some soap box for uniform justifications.

  7. w.ryan says:

    If I read correctly this story is a positive story about a positive man doing positive things for the youth in the community. These kids want to participate and will not be used by a manipulative politician that wants a cause to hide behind no matter if it affects thousands of unwilling people. As a matter of fact if the right person was elected we wouldn’t be discussing uniforms. I’m glad to see though that you came around toward the end. Kudos.

  8. Cindy D. says:

    What a positive, uplifting story! I commend Sam for being so dedicated to the kids in Flagler County. I wish them much success in their efforts to launch a local Flag Football league!

  9. Layla says:

    Nice to know there are many like Sam willing to give something back to his community. He’s a good man. This is an awesome idea.

  10. Heather Beaven says:

    I LOVE THE SWORDS!!! Great family, great parents, great role models. Sam, I volunteer my husband to help and I can make a mean lemonade for those sweaty little boys.

  11. Kendall says:

    Sam, the editor of Flagler Live knows how to get in touch with me. I would like to sponsor a child to play Flag Football this spring. Let me know where to send the money.

  12. Come on Man! says:

    I think this is a great service to our kids and I applaud Sam Raven for all he is willing to give back to the community for OUR kids! ! !

    Thank You!

  13. palmcoaster says:

    Also I would like some information regarding where can I send one child sponsorship for this spring…Maybe Flagler Live can post it here? Lets help our kids .Thank you.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      palmcoaster, you can call Sam Sword, the number is posted in the story, he’ll be happy to take your sponsorship proposal.

  14. Curious says:

    Can girls join, too?

  15. Gretchen Smith says:

    My son Chase has played in the local Phantom Flag League for two seasons now, and we’re signing him up for his third season this spring. He absolutely loves playing football and is having the time of his life. We don’t have a lot of money, but let me say that $70 to $75 a season is a worthwhile investment given the quality of experience he’s receiving in return. The program is well-organized and led by committed parents who volunteer their time and talents. I would wholeheartedly recommend Phantom Flag to any parent or child, and think the headline of this story makes an inaccurate comparison given the positive, supportive experience we’ve had.

    I sincerely hope the City of Palm Coast will work to accommodate both of these leagues.

  16. Brittney says:

    I welcome anyone who wants to start their own league of any sport. We have been with Phantom now thru 2 season getting ready for our 3rd. Love my sons coach. Yes it is more practice, yes it is more money, BUT the skills they learn from actual football skills to how to take a WIN and how to deal with a LOSS is something i think prepares them for when they are older and wanting to play high school or college sports. And im sorry to say ANY SPORT you play there is always drama of some sort. My son has played baseball, soccer and now flag football. It is all about how the parent handles it and how the parent teaches the child to handle it. Good luck to the new league but for me anyone who asks i would def. recommend Phantom flag =)

  17. Proud Supporter of Phantom Flag and Cheer! says:

    I think its great that the city would like to be involved in programs for the kids! I would like to say, though, I am a proud supporter of Phantom Flag Football and Cheer here in Palm Coast. The league was started in the spring with flag football only and this fall, they added cheerleading. The league is a Play 60 NFL league with real NFL team logo jerseys and NFL flag football rules. The cost was $70 LAST year but this year, all the volunteers worked so hard to raise money to help kids who have low incomes. They have always made scholarships available to those who needed it. The group is non-profit and despite the city wanting to charge them for things such as hourly lighting rates for the fields, they have managed to LOWER the cost of registration to $65. They provide the players with flags, mouthpieces, NFL jerseys, and the cheerleaders with a full uniform, bow, and pom poms. They are a competitive league with a draft, playoff and championship based on the final scores of each game, however, each participant gets a trophy. I don’t recall ever seeing a coach yell at a child, but instead watched BOTH teams who played in our Super Bowl just this week, celebrate together at the end of a tough game with all of the parents and coaches. I loved being a part of Phantom flag and I love my kids being a part of it ! I am ALL FOR more activities for kids in PC because we have to get these kids busy…I just wish the city would have thought about an alternative sport like basketball so that nothing is taken away from a nonprofit organization whose volunteers are also working hard to give kids a chance to shine.

  18. Proud Supporter of Phantom Flag and Cheer! says:

    I also want to add—regarding the headline of this story (because it leads one to think that the current flag football league “yells”)–as a volunteer with Phantom, I have been witness to league organizers dealing with upset parents or coaches. Like Brittney says, there is always someone who wants to stir up drama. The organizers of Phantom are ALWAYS at the fields! You can bet if there is a flame, they will calmly put it out immediately. I think a league needs to have expectations and rules so that there is less confusion and drama. I just hope that the new league handles conflict in the same way Phantom does so that it, too, is a pleasant experience for all that are involved.

    • Proud Parent of a Phantom Flag Player says:

      We have lived here in Palm Coast for the past 13 years and had our children active in all activities whether it be dance, cheerleading, baseball or soccer. They were all good league’s and our children are still in them. We are impressed by the Phantom Flag League being so professional and well organized and from talking to other parents and coaches everybody has the same postive feedback. As far as the title Mor Coaching, Less Yelling I don’t know what kind of message that is sending, but I never met a teacher, coach or parent who did not raise their voice or be stern when teaching them. This new league says it’s not about being Competitive with other league’s but continues to note the lower cost of other league’s. Also says they did not know about the other league. I don’tknow how that is possible especially wiht the City of Palm Coast being on board. When thinking of opening any new league or business you always do your research so see if there is anything like this in the area. That is just common sennse! I wish the new league Luck! However, I hope they are really doing it Just for the Kids and not for their own political GAIN!!!!!!!!!!

      • Proud Parent of a Phantom Flag Player says:

        Correction for the above post. As far as the title More Coaching, Less Yelling I don’t know what kind of message that is sending but I never met a teacher, coach or parent who did not raise their voice or be stern with a child once in a while when teaching them.

  19. Anonymous says:

    As with any sport

  20. Sara smith says:

    As a mother and a wife of a coach, I am absolutely thrilled with the phantom flag football league we have in this town. The wonderful, dedicated men who cared enough to set up this league have set in motion the changing of lives. Yes, our league is competitive, but why play anything, especially sports, if it’s not? Life is competitive, and children need to learn the ups and downs of it. If people want to be involved in activities for their children that aren’t competitive, good luck! Marching bands, chess leagues, golfing, dancing, leadership clubs, etc… Are ALL competitive! Phantom flag is a league that YES, has competition, but has amazing leaders, coaches, players, , and parents that I am proud to be a part of! The lessons and skills our children have gained from this league is second to none! Go phantom flag, and go ravens!!!!

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