Popular Suntree-Viera Youth Football League ready for 16th season


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The Suntree-Viera Youth Football League is set to kick off its fall season on Sept. 5, with more than 300 players ages 5 to 14 taking part in tackle and flag football.

Carl Kotala

The start of the Suntree-Viera Youth Football League season can only mean one thing for Saturdays at Viera Regional Park.

Things are about to really start hopping around here.

“We get pretty fired up,” said Shaun Hartman, president of the league and coach of the SVYFL 12U team. “We have a Hawk head. It’s a 40-foot inflatable that the kids come out of. 

"We have the break-through banners. Sometimes, the coaches do the smoke. The parents all stay on one side (of the field). They do their tents. Everybody’s really decked out. And then on (another) field, we have flag games going concurrently the entire day.

“This place is a thousand people deep at any given time on a game day. It’s pretty impressive.”

The SVYL Hawks are set to open their season Sept. 5 with 160 kids playing tackle football and 150 playing flag. There are five tackle teams ranging in age from 5 to 14 with a maximum of 35 players per squad and 10 badged coaches/team moms.

It’s a true community effort, too, with Viera High School players such as Tyler Cooley, C.J. Simms, Caleb Osburn, Jake Woodruff and Nolan Helton showing up at practice to act as junior coaches,

Formed in 2004 as the SVYFL Lightning, the nonprofit organization began with 12 volunteers hoping to create and develop a home for youth football and cheerleading in Viera. It now boasts 16 board members and four coordinators.

The team name was changed to the Hawks in 2015, and in 2018, the SVYFL moved from the Brevard County Youth Football and Cheer Association to compete in the national organization, Pop Warner, three years ago.

“We’ve always had a board that thinks ahead, and in the best interest of the organization as a conglomerate versus … my kid’s on this team, so I’m thinking about him,” Hartman said.

Safety is a big priority as evidenced by two products introduced in recent years.

In flag football, the SVYFL has contracted with GameBreaker Helmets, which feature a D30 technology that Hartman described as a thin layer of orange foam that is being used in military-grade helmets as well as Schutt NFL helmets.

“It’s basically a molecular compound that, when it impacts, it absorbs everything to one central spot and doesn’t let the impact go through the material,” Hartman said.

The organization bought more than 300 of the helmets last year and went from having six concussions the previous season to zero with the new protection.

In tackle football, some parents have purchased — for their child’s own personal use —  the Riddell SpeedFlex helmet with InSite Impact Response System technology that features built-in sensors around the lining of the helmet. It can then be synced to a hand-device used by coaches to monitor players.

“There are three levels of impact that it monitors,” Hartman said.

“There’s low, medium and high. If you have a high impact, it will alert and beep and vibrate and the coach can pull it out and immediately be able to see the number of the player and the level of impact.

“Then, he can pull that player off, do an assessment and say, ‘Yeah, OK, he’s good,’ or ‘No, he’s not.’”

There will be 26 players using the helmet this season. The device also can be used as a coaching tool. In one instance, after looking at the numbers and subsequently simulating practice situations, it was determined a lineman kept turning his head when he was blocking and was being impacted by the opposing player’s helmet.

When it comes to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the league is following guidelines provided by Pop Warner and the CDC recommendations passed down by the county.

Player’s temperatures are to be taken before they come on the field and anyone showing symptoms is asked to take two weeks off. At practice, players' water bottles are placed six-feet apart so they can practice safe distance whenever possible.

Pop Warner has a COVID questionnaire that will be done at a minimum of three times during the season.

“We’re going to up that a little more and we’re going to do it weekly as soon as the actual season starts,” Hartman said.

On the field, the Hawks continue to be both popular and successful. The spring flag football league draws 450 players and this year, there was a waiting list for three of the five teams after the first 45 days of registration.

Last season, SVYFL’s five tackle teams went a combined 28-4 in Pop Warner and two teams — 8U and 10U — won the East Coast Conference championship with the 10U team (which had been undefeated the two previous years) reaching the second round of the Southeast Regional.

“We were pretty competitive in Pop Warner last year,” Hartman said. “We expect to be competitive again.”