Dedication And Discipline: Learning More Than Just Football
If the football industry decided to change its tactics by hiring players, cheerleaders, videographers and reporters who were children between the ages of 5 to 15, the National Football League might also end up with a new name: Phoenix American Youth Football (PHX AYF). I may be exaggerating a tad; however, PHX AYF is a great microcosm of the real thing, offering Valley youth the opportunity to do so much more than just play the game.
The organization offers a glimpse of what life can be like in the sports industry, but instead of earning a paycheck, kids earn an education. American Youth Football is the largest youth football and cheer organization in the world, taking pride in its ideals of sportsmanship, safety and full participation.
“The objectives of the program are that we build future leaders as we partner with the community. We do this through our three main programs: football, cheer and academics,” says Dee Grayer, PHX AYF executive board volunteer and national football commissioner.
Like Father, Like Son
Grayer played both college and arena football while earning his college degree. Later, he passed his love of the game down to his son.
“We’ve been involved with youth football and cheer since my son was 7 years old in California,” says Grayer. “My son grew up in this program and now he’s playing football at Yale University. But beyond his own love of football, he loves academics, one thing we stress in our program.”
More Than Just a Game
PHX AYF encourages academics through a program called The Scholar Ballers, which hosts an annual banquet to honor students who received 3.5 GPAs or higher. This year, they plan to expand by including a few more awards such as “Most Improved.”
“We want students to stay focused on their books and reward the kids based on their full-year report cards,” says Grayer. “We support our local university and encourage kids to get an education. Our partnership with Arizona State University (ASU) is incredible. Coach Todd Graham’s words are real; he is working on building a community and we have a shared vision.”
Grayer is proud of the relationship that they have with ASU and appreciates how the Sun Devil football coaches and players work with them to build tomorrow’s leaders.
“We are getting these kids ready for the next level; elementary school and on to high school and college. We teach them about life and football.”
They also have a strong cheer program that offers many opportunities for kids to perform during games and compete. Like the football teams, they too have their own championship competition and are included in all the events and opportunities that PHX AYF offers.
If football and cheer doesn’t get your kiddo excited, there are also opportunities to learn about other aspects of the industry as well, such as film, photography and journalism. Professionals from various industries donate their time and mentor these budding media enthusiasts through the program as well. Kids can also learn about team and equipment management.
“Dick’s Sporting Goods is a big supporter of ours. We are going to do tours throughout the year so that kids can see the process, like manufacturing and distribution, and how that all works,” says Grayer.
He hopes to create more partnerships like the ones they have with Dick’s Sporting Goods and their media partners so that kids are aware of the many opportunities available to them in the sports industry.
Three thousand kids make up the 112 PHX AYF football teams and 20 cheer teams. Divide that by 15 associations and nine divisions, then add the professional mentors and board members that volunteer, plus the 13 year-round volunteers per team, and that equals a whole lot of people!
“We have business managers (team moms), coaches and committee leads, everyone from CEOs to stay-at-home-moms. We have a lot of things for people to do and a lot of volunteers that go above and beyond,” says Grayer. “We also have former football players and professional athletes that coach. Everyone is so dedicated to the kids.”
The parents aren’t the only volunteers in the program either; the kids are encouraged to support their community as well. For the past two years, they’ve worked with United Food Bank and have raised more than 3,000 pounds of food through their Annual Jingle Bowl Charity Games.
“Respect, discipline and dedication, they get that from the game. It’s not all about the dream; it’s about the process to get to that dream. We also want the kids to think about what they are doing in school and at home. We want to open as many avenues as possible.”
Learn more about joining or partnering with PHX AYF by visiting PhoenixAyf.com.