BANGOR, Maine — For years, Bangor Youth Football practiced on a field next to Cameron Field, the site for their games.
It was all right most of the time, until school started and the Cohen Middle School teams needed it for softball and other athletic activities.
“We kind of get bounced around a bit,” said Anthony Berry, a coach for Bangor Youth Football as well as its safety coordinator and head of fundraising.
The days of bouncing around may be over, however, as the city of Bangor, through Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette, offered to let the privately run nonprofit group use a field next to Downeast School in Old Capehart. Games still will be played at Cameron.
“We had been talking for the last couple of years about purchasing a plot of land,” said Berry. “But [economically] it wasn’t going to work out.”
That’s when the Downeast School field came into the picture.
“It’s been a parcel of property with no consistent use,” said Willette.
Representatives from the city, the Bangor School Department and Bangor Youth Football walked the property to check its suitability.
The board of directors liked what they saw and accepted the offer and plan to stay for years to come.
“It’s level, it’s wide and it’s more than 100 yards long,” said Berry. “It’s perfect for the number of kids we have in the program.”
Bangor Youth Football is set up for boys and girls in grades 4-7. The JV squads are for players in grades 4 and 5, while varsity is for grades 6 and 7.
Most of the players are from Bangor, but they also have some from outside Bangor, including Brewer, Orono, Old Town, Orrington, Holden, Hermon and Glenburn.
“We have a little over 80 players [signed up and practicing] now, and that’s not including flag football,” said Berry, who expects the numbers to grow.
“Usually, we pick up some after school starts,” said Berry.
If that happens, they’ll have plenty of company.
“We have more players at this point than … in the five years I’ve been involved with the program,” said Berry.
For now, players are continuing to join the team practices Monday through Thursday every week until school starts. Part of that, Berry believes, is due to the site change.
“By us bringing the program there, we’re getting some kids who might not have participated before,” he said.
“It’s a good opportunity for kids in that part of the city,” he said.
“The first week we were there, some kids were on their bikes leaning against the fence watching,” said Berry. “One of our coaches, Brian Strout, said, ‘Instead of watching, why don’t you come over on this side of the fence and suit up?’”
Some of them did and others have followed. That wouldn’t have been possible if the football practices had remained at Cohen School, and Berry knows that.
“As parents ourselves, we wouldn’t feel comfortable having them come from Old Capehart to Cameron [by themselves],” he said. “And at 7:30 [after practice], they would be riding their bikes home in the dark.
“Being [at Downeast] is a blessing. They just have to walk or ride a couple of blocks and they can be home in five minutes.”
After school starts, practice drops to twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Games start Sept. 9. The final date for a player to be registered and join practice is Sept. 11.
After a six-week regular season, playoffs begin Oct. 21. The third- and fourth-place teams square off followed by the top two teams meeting for the title.
The club also sponsors flag football, which starts Aug. 28 and already has more than 40 players registered, and cheering for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. Cheering practice starts Aug. 22, also at Downeast, under Shawna Kenny.
With the practice field situation resolved, Berry has switched to his fundraising hat, and he is proud of the group’s raffle this year.
First prize is a 2011 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 motorcycle, second prize is a pair of diamond earrings (¾ total carat weight) from Quality Jewelers, third prize is a new kayak from Old Town Canoe and fourth prize is a pair of box seat tickets for the New England Patriots’ first preseason home game next year, plus other prizes as well.
“We feel like we’ve put together a raffle like we’ve never seen before,” said Berry.
Raffle tickets are $5 apiece or five for $20.
“And we’re only selling 5,000 tickets,” Berry said.
On Aug. 26 and Aug. 31, they’ll be selling raffle tickets at Sam’s Club and on Sept. 1 at the Keith Urban concert. Tickets can also be requested by emailing Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The drawing will be held Sept. 22.
They’re going to be busy during the American Folk Festival Aug. 24-26, too, as Camden National Bank is allowing Bangor Youth Football to raise money through parking fees at its Harlow Street sites all three days.
Berry said his group will also be handling the parking on Aug. 25 at People’s United Bank on Main Street.
And they’re selling cards for discounts at local restaurants and businesses.
Berry sees the need for all the fundraising in two ways.
“We are literally running out of equipment,” he said of one use.
“It’s $300 for the whole nine yards,” he added, and that cost is borne by Bangor Youth Football.
The fee for the players is $75 and that includes use of the equipment, which is returned after each season. If there are two or more children from the same family, the fee is $50 per child.
The second need Berry sees is to cover the fee for some players.
“We have a significant number of parents who can’t afford it, but we don’t turn anyone away,” said Berry. “That’s why the fundraising efforts are so important to us.”
They have some corporate sponsors, but they’re always seeking more.
The club gets a highly visible reminder of its work when the coaches look at area schools and see some of their former players.
Many Bangor Youth Football players have gone on to star for local high school teams, including recent Bangor High stars Lonnie Hackett, Josiah Hartley and Joe Seccareccia.
“We’re proud of our alumni,” said Strout, who is also the club president. “We cheer for them wherever they go.”