This fall, when more than 900 Edina kids don football jerseys, helmets, cleats and pads, and hit the numerous fields around town to play touch, flag or tackle football as part of the array of Edina Football Association (EFA) teams, they’ll join a rich history that began a half-century ago. It’s a legacy created by an organization that promotes good sportsmanship and character building as much as it does skill, technique and excellent coaching.
“For 50 years, our organization has been teaching kids not only how to play football, but also how to be good people,” says Ross Tomoson, EFA president since January 2011 and a board member since his son played fourth-grade flag football six years ago. You see that a lot: Folks who want to be part of the organization for years, sometimes even after their kids have moved on to high school, college or become parents themselves.
Before the group was formed, kids, for the most part, played in their neighborhoods on out-lots and in grassy backyards (for those lucky enough to have the space), and teams were formed through schoolyard picks or other less-than-democratic means. Games often lacked organization, consistent rules, safety precautions and supervision; heck, it was kind of the like the Wild West of the playgrounds and fields, with every kid for him- or herself.
With the inception of the football association, games and practices were scheduled, teams were formed, rules were enforced, safety measures were introduced, coaches were chosen, and players honed their love of the game.
The program ebbed and flowed in numbers in the early days, but when it expanded the flag football offerings, the Edina Football Association really began to hit its stride. “We started filling up the stands,” says Tom O’Connell. He was one of the assistant coach for the Edina High School football team 1966–1970 sat on the EFA board from 2001-06 and remains active with the group.
When the group decided to make their program into something of a steppingstone for the high school football program in the late ’90s and early 2000s, things really opened up. Some years the program boasted close to 1,500 kids.
“We started teaching the terminology, the techniques, the plays, the rules, that would help ease the transition into high school football,” says O’Connell, “and we started it right away when the kids were just getting into the program.”
Mike Tice, head coach of the Minnesota Vikings from 2001 to 2005, had a son and nephew in the Edina High School football program, and he helped fuel the enthusiasm by bringing Vikings football players like Daunte Culpepper and a dozen others to the EFA registrations.
“These little second-, third- and fourth-graders would just stare up at them in awe,” says O’Connell with a laugh. “It was terrific.”
Years later, kids are still lining up to play the game. A few things have changed since the group began, however. Folks may not have talked about safety (much) and concussions (at all) back in 1962, but they sure are now.
“Head injuries and concussions are the areas of most concern,” says past resident Tomoson. “We have a safety committee, and a doctor on the board who runs that part of the program. We eventually would like all of our kids from fourth grade on up to get baseline cognitive testing, so if something does happen, doctors will have a benchmark to compare to.”
In addition to baseline testing, the EFA also offers free orthodontically fitted mouth guards, as well as links and advice on the program’s website on how to make sure that helmets fit perfectly, and what to look for if you suspect your child may have sustained a head injury.
The group requires all coaches to complete a rigorous training program; an EMT is present at all tackle football games, and strict guidelines are now in place about kids who might have had a head injury and when they can return after sustaining one.
“We take safety very seriously,” emphasizes Tomoson.
In addition to implementing these important safety procedures, Tomoson and his board of approximately 20 members (including five women, which definitely would not have been the case in 1962) have also been instrumental in other areas. Since part of the organization’s charter is to raise money for the high school team to help defray coaching and equipment costs, the Edina Football Association is working on something akin to a Quarterback Club to bolster its fundraising efforts, which now encompass a golf tournament and two or three other fundraisers per year.
The organization has a new website, has gotten behind a brand-new youth cheerleading program, whereby 60 cheerleaders help pump up the crowd and cheer on their favorite fifth- and sixth- grade teams, and is working diligently to bring the best fall leagues, summer camps and winter programs that it can offer.
The Edina Football Association’s 50th year will prompt a celebration of the myriad kids who have been part of this historic program, at the annual EFA Night at
Kuhlman FieldIt will undoubtedly be a perfect tribute to the folks who volunteered their time and whose love of the game is as marked as the perfectly placed chalk lines on the field.
“Our goal is to provide a wonderful experience for the kids, and have them learn skills that will help them to be successful throughout their lives,” says Don Hasbargen, longtime EFA enthusiast and past board member. “It is a wonderful organization filled with people who are completely passionate about the game and wholeheartedly believe in the idea of helping kids gain a lifelong love of football.”