By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Things looked grim early this year for young football players in southern Fairfax County. One of the South County Raptors teams had to forfeit a playoff game because of a parent's bad sportsmanship.
Then the area's entire football club was ousted from the Fairfax league.
"There's a group of parents who said, 'Okay, what are we going to do in South County?' " said Lorton resident and football dad Stephen French. "And a group of us said, 'Well, why don't we start a community-based, community-run association right here?' "
These days, the boys are back on the field with a new club, uniforms, leaders and team name: the South County Colts.
"It's just a wonderful, wonderful end and a new beginning to a very bad situation," said Mark Meana, chairman of the Fairfax County Youth Football League, which organizes competitions among 370 teams in 24 local sports associations, including the new South County Athletic Association, which has signed up more than 220 young players.
In November, nearly 250 boys ages 7 to 16 were playing football for a club called the South County Youth Association, whose teams were all named the Raptors. The team of 12- to 14-year-olds was headed for the playoffs when the association's commissioner, Dan Hinkle, fired its head and assistant coaches. According to Hinkle, he fired them because they moved his son, Scott, from defense to offense in the team's final, victorious game of the season.
"Scott does not sit out on defense -- ever," Hinkle had written in an e-mail to the coaches during the pre-season. "He goes in and stays in. That includes all practices, scrimmages and games. The entire league exists so he can play defense on the best team in his weight class. . . . He is my son, I own the league, and he plays every snap on defense."
After Hinkle fired the two men, the boys refused to play for new coaches, so the playoffs went on without them. The team later won a special bowl game 6-0, with its old coaches volunteering.
Hinkle lost his position. The Fairfax league removed him as commissioner, Meana said, because his organization had not complied with league rules, such as having an elected board and a grievance procedure. Ejecting Hinkle meant dissolving the entire association, because Hinkle "controlled it all. . . . You had to get rid of the association because he was the association," Meana said.
That left a vast hole in youth sports in fast-growing South County. Hinkle had filled that gap two years earlier when he created the association with, he said, $150,000 of his own money.
Before, parents had to shuttle their sons to practice in other parts of the county.
For a while it looked like they might have to do that again. Instead, they mobilized. Encouraged by the Fairfax league, French and a few other parents held a meeting to gauge interest in forming a new association. Only three people showed up, French said. But with each meeting, more came, and the South County Athletic Association began to come together.
French, whose 11-year-old son, Brandon, was a Raptor, was named commissioner, and a board was elected. About $70,000 was raised. And the football teams, they decided, would be called the Colts -- in a nod to the Stallions, the mascot of South County Secondary School. The association also plans to offer soccer, lacrosse and basketball.
"It's an experience and a half," French said of building a club from the ground up. "I struggle to make sure that the association is moving forward, growing, has a positive experience, that the community is involved."
It's working so far, said Lorton resident Colleen Ross, whose son, Nick, played for the Raptors last year and signed up for the Colts this year. The previous association never seemed to be run with total fairness, she said. Rumors abounded about coaches who wanted to lead only certain boys or coach at certain team levels, she said.
"The attitudes are more positive from everybody," Ross said. "Everybody is pretty happy with what's going on."
Nick Ross, 12, is among them. Three years ago, before the South County area had a football club, the defensive end used to travel to Springfield to play, an arrangement he feared might resume when Hinkle's association folded. Instead, he is again spending the final days of summer break doing football drills -- "hitting each other," as he puts it -- with his neighborhood and school friends.
"I hope we do really good," said Nick, who plays in the 110-pound category and who will be in seventh grade at South County Secondary. "It looks like we have a lot of good people on our team."