St. John Football Association co-founder Kent Wessinger talks to his Youth Flag Football team during a game at Winston Wells ball field.
St. John offers a limited amount of recreational opportunities for local children and one popular league needs the community’s support in order to continue.
After the St. John American Legion’s flag football program folded six years ago, local youth did not have the chance to play football for two years until Kent Wessinger and Brummell Germain stepped up to the plate and formed the St. John Football Association, launching both a men’s adult and youth flag football leagues.
The two organized the leagues, secured donations, dealt with permits and insurance and even coached youth teams as they watched the programs more than quadruple in size over four years.
“The American Legion was doing a league and then they stopped and nothing happened for two years,” said Wessinger. “Then one day I was out in the field at Julius E. Sprauve School playing football with my son and within 30 minutes I had 25 kids out there playing football with me. They wore me out, so I retreated to the stands.”
“I was sitting there and I looked around and there was a rat under the seat, the garbage was overflowing and there was not a blade of grass on the field,” Wessinger said. “And here were these guys on the field longing for adult leadership and the chance to play. I thought, ‘Here I am. I can do this and I’m just bailing out.’”
And so the St. John Football Association was formed and with a small but dedicated group of coaches and organizers, the weekly games have drawn a steadily growing group of supporters and players to their Friday night games.
“That first year we had 38 or 39 players in the youth league and this past year we had 160-something kids,” said Wessinger. “The kids love it and are ridiculously passionate about it.”
With increasing demands on their time this year, Wessinger and Germain decided not to host the men’s adult league, Wessinger explained.
“We just don’t have the time to do both,” he said.
“We don’t really have the time to do either, but the kids need the youth league.”
In order to continue this season and into the future, the youth flag football league needs help, Wessinger explained.
“We’ve been running the league by ourselves for our years now and this year we’re both really busy” he said. “We need the community to take ownership and buy into this a little more. It’s really important to the kids and it’s really important to the community.”
Residents can help by coaching a team, being a referee for games or making donations to the league. The league has two divisions — one for 8- to 12-year-olds and one for 13- to 15-year-olds — each with six teams. In addition to needing 12 coaches, the league needs referees and financial support, Wessinger explained.
“We need 12 coaches and four referees,” he said. “It would be great if they knew or played the sport, but what we really need is people with enthusiasm who are passionate about kids.”
The commitment for coaches entails two practices and one game each week for the eight week season, followed by playoff games and the championship. Many teams are coached by two people, giving coaches a bit more flexibility. Referees are needed for the Friday evening games only.
More important than having encyclopedic knowledge of football for coaches is the desire to help children and offer much-needed guidance and leadership, according to Wessinger.
“The kids are looking for leadership and they are longing for it,” he said. “This is not just important for the boys’ physical well-being, it’s important for their development too. It’s important for the whole community to buy into this.”
“The league teaches them how to be a team and they learn a lot more than just how to play football,” Wessinger said.
Players deal with a variety of issues on the grid iron and pay the price for not acting in a respectful manner, Wessinger added.
“When the kids have anger issues, they get kicked out of the game and have to go to the police station,” he said. “They talk to the officers there and they learn from those experiences.”
When the St. John Football Association launched its youth flag football team four years ago, only two Love City players were on the Eudora Kean High School football team, according to Wessinger.
“There were 18 players from St. John on the team this past year and that is because of the football league,” he said. “The league has brought the kids together and taught them how to be a part of a team.”
In addition to volunteers, the league needs financial support. Each season costs about $10,000 to host, with costs adding up for insurance, field rental, trophies and more, Wessinger explained.
“There is a $20 registration fee for kids, but that doesn’t come close to covering the insurance we need and the rent for the field, trophies and our awards dinner,” he said. “We need some help fundraising for that.”
The St. John Football Association is a non-profit 501c3 organization and donations are tax deductible, Wessinger added.
Anyone interested in coaching or refereeing for the league should attend a meeting on Tuesday, December 2, at 6 p.m. at the University of the Virgin Islands’ annex on the third floor of The Marketplace.
The first game of the season for the youth football league will be on Friday, January 24. For more information about the league or to make a donation, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.