Player-friendly, family-friendly, coach-friendly. If that type of sports experience sounds attractive, you aren’t alone. In its fall 2015 season, Ed Luterbach’s flag football league (Edina Boys Flag Football, EBFF, of which Luterbach is commissioner) included almost 300 boys. (According to Luterbach, there is a girls’ flag football team that operates under different guidelines.) “EBFF is kind of organized recess. Kids get out of the house on a Saturday morning, play and have fun,” he says. And the 2016 season might be even better: Luterbach is turning over EBFF to Edina Parks and Recreation. It’s a change potentially bigger than administration of EBFF alone. “Why not expand it to a year-round program?” asks Luterbach. He’s hoping the notion of loosely organized, kid-centric sports can grow to include whiffleball or kick-the-can or who knows what else? “The spirit of what’s happened in flag football can carry on in other sports.”
Kelly Housh founded EBFF in 2004 and handed it over to Luterbach in 2007. “She started the league with about 30 players,” recalls Luterbach, who has coached his two sons’ teams from the start, and continued coaching even when running the league. He views flag football as simply another alternative to other community and school football programs. Flag football is played with no pads, no helmets, and no contact. One player “tackles” another by pulling off their Velcro-attached “flag.” A standard football field accommodates three flag football games, played from sideline to sideline. Practice and play are on a simple schedule: every Saturday morning in the fall. All teams practice for a half-hour before a 1-hour game. Younger boys (grades six to nine) practice and play in the first Saturday-morning shift, older boys (grades 10-12) in the second.
There are a few other differences in how EBFF rolls. For one, the kids call their own plays. “The coaches’ job is more about securing equal playing time,” says Luterbach. Even that is often managed, very equitably, by the players, he adds. “And that includes playing team members with Down syndrome and other challenges. The teams embrace all their players.” Refereeing is also done mostly by players and former players; Luterbach sees it as a significant leadership opportunity for older boys. One such player-turned-ref is Jack Kewitsch, who also held the position of head referee. When playing, he “just loved the simplicity of it,” says Kewitsch. The experience of being head ref, he says, really improved his leadership and organizational skills.
In 2015 Luterbach was nominated by Patty and Dave Dronen for an Edina Community Foundation’s Connecting With Kids leadership award. He was out of the country (he’s on the board of directors of an organization that provides emergency food relief in Capetown, South Africa) during the award banquet this past spring, but his wife accepted the award on his behalf. His reaction to the award was first surprise, he says, and then gratitude. “It’s an amazing niche that we’ve found,” he says.
Luterbach has arranged two seasons of “shadowing” (in 2015, city representatives participated in EBFF practices and games and in 2016 Luterbach will be present for consultation) to ensure a seamless hand-off to Edina Parks and Rec. Paul Nicholas, Edina parent of EBFF players and refs, and himself an EBFF coach, isn’t worried. “Ed has laid a great foundation. He worked with Edina Parks and Rec and will continue to be available.” Nicholas’s older son played in traveling sports and loved it, he says. “But what I noticed when he played EBFF is that he was laughing. He was having fun.” About Luterbach, Nicholas adds, “They should name those football fields after him.”
Go to the website here to register for the fall 2016 season.