In an ideal world, the Santa Barbara Youth Football League would have a place to call home, where its teams could play one game after another on any given Saturday in the late summer and fall.
As the organization enters its 42nd season, the idea of playing at a permanent home-field site remains a dream for president Larry Martel and the other officials of the SBYFL.
“We’re in dire need of fields, said Martel from the SBYFL office at the Page Youth Center, where just a few yards away stands the baseball complex for the Goleta Valley South Little League.
It would be a dream come true for the YFL to have a similar facility. Members of the league’s board are trying to make that happen with a campaign called “Got Fields?”
“We’re just getting that under way and putting it out there,” Martel said. “The City of Goleta is putting in a new park and we’re trying to work on city council members to help us. We’re trying to get the word out and get funds to eventually purchase a field.”
In the meantime, Martel and the league are asking for the continued support of the four local high schools to help it host games on Saturdays.
“Any given Saturday, we have six to eight games going on,” Martel said. “Realistically, we play only four games on a field.”
He said Bishop Diego has offered its field for 3-4 Saturday play dates and San Marcos allows the league to use its upper field (off Turnpike) for most of the season. Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos have each offered one game date.
Bishop Diego Athletic Director Dan Peeters has allowed YFL teams to practice and play games at its facility.
“During my eight-year tenure as AD, Bishop Diego has had at least one team practice on campus yearly, and the YFL rents our field 3 or 4 Saturdays to host 3 or 4 games,” Peeters said. “Bishop is committed to doing our part to support YFL going forward.”
Unlike DP, Santa Barbara and San Marcos, Bishop Diego does not play its varsity football games on campus.
Dos Pueblos Athletic Director Dan Feldhaus said he welcomes outside groups to use the stadium, but his first responsibility is to preserve the grass field for his student-athletes.
“My job as athletic director is to provide a safe facility for DP athletes,” said Feldhaus, who is a coach in the YFL.
With the league playing as many as six games on a Saturday, the concern of Feldhaus and the other athletic directors is keeping their grass fields in good condition for other school teams.
“I have to consider winter sports like soccer,” he said.
Feldhaus noted that the DP football teams don’t even practice at the stadium.
Now if he had a turf field, “We let them play their Super Bowl there every year,” Feldhaus said.
Joe Chenoweth, who officially took over as Santa Barbara High’s Athletic Director on July 1, said he wants to be more active with YFL and try to accommodate the league.
He said the school is giving YFL one play date at Peabody Stadium and two dates on the baseball outfield.
“That’s three dates, which is pretty good,” he said.
As a former director of adult sports with the City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department, Chenoweth is well aware of the field shortage in the community.
“Regardless of what sport you play, everybody is trying to find a field. Hopefully, with three dates, we can accommodate (YFL) a little bit.”
He added that he looks forward to the day when Peabody Stadium has a turf field.
“This won’t be an issue,” he said.
Martel said he’s grateful for everything the schools do for YFL, he just wishes they could do more.
“If every high school in Santa Barbara would give us four dates, we wouldn’t have a problem; our issues would be nonexistent,” he said. “We appreciate everything they do, but one date is not enough. Even if they gave us three dates, that would be good. If they offered four dates, that would be great.”
He’s hoping to work out something with San Marcos Athletic Director Abe Jahadhmy to schedule some games on the turf field following club soccer matches at Warkentin Stadium. The stadium will host the season-opening Jamboree on Aug. 25.
“If we can find some fields we can call home … that’s our plight,” Martel said. “That’s what we need for YFL to really prosper, that’s what I think. It’s all about getting support from the high schools.”
The Santa Barbara YFL is accepting player registration through July 15. Parents can register their kids at www.sbyfl.org.
The SBYFL has changed its team format and nickname. After several seasons of using various nicknames, all teams will be called the Santa Barbara Saints.
“Last year, we had 13 teams and 8-10 names. They were growing into an entity of themselves and we wanted to get away from that,” Martel said. “It was getting away from what YFL stood for. We wanted to play under one name, like the teams in Ventura and Santa Ynez.”
The teams will divided by the age of the players rather than a formula that took in age, weight, height and experience. Teams in Division 1 will be for ages 7-8; Division 2, ages 9-10; Division 3, ages 11-12, and Division 4, ages 13-14.
For safety reasons, weight will still be a factor.
“If a child is over a certain amount of weight, we put an X on the helmet and that player cannot advance the ball; he’ll be a lineman or a blocking fullback,” explained Martel.
“This really simplifies things,” Martel said of the new divisions. “We really did our homework on this and checked with leagues all over the U.S. We needed to get away from our exponent sheet.”
Martel said there are 260 players signed up as the league goes into the final week of registration. The YFL season kicks off with its Jamboree on Aug. 25 at San Marcos’ Warkentin Stadium. The regular season begins on Sept. 1.
Martel noted that the SBYFL coaches have been educated on how to recognize the symptoms of a concussion. He said the coaches took an online program through USA Football and got certified.
“We’re really being proactive with that,” he said. “The coaches can recognize the symptoms. That will help us out and keep parents at ease a little bit. The coaches know what to look for.
“Our coaches have been working with us for 3-4 seasons,” he added. “They know how to teach kids the proper techniques with tackling.”