Dalton Youth Football celebrates winning 14U county title, and keeping players safe
DALTON— More than ever player safety is at the forefront of conversations involving youth sports. Youth football in Berkshire County has taken plenty of steps to not only protect athletes, but also improve the game.
In Dalton, that starts at the top with Wahconah Coach Gary Campbell Jr., who has led the Warriors to six of the last seven Western Mass Finals.
"We've seen tremendous growth in Dalton," said Dalton 14U football coach Ben Melle. "That starts with Gary Campbell. Even though the population has shrunk we feel like one big community that supports one another. That is how we we should approach Berkshire County sports."
Coach Melle has worked with youth sports for ten years, but 2018 was his first year with the senior-youth team. Throughout the Berkshires, with the help of high school coaches, there is a focus on making football safer, but also showcasing the talent the county has to offer.
"We only do about 45 minutes of tackling a week," explained Melle. "We've been introducing new ways to tackle, heads up tackling, and a large focus on footwork. I feel if we keep doing these things, we can keep developing Dalton and Berkshire County football."
Some may believe that football, especially at the youth level, is starting to disappear, because of safety concerns. However, the Dalton peewee program grew from 14 to 32 kids in 2018.
"Safety is our key," said Rich Haley, who's worked with the youth football teams over the past two years. "We are focused on making everyone hit better and cleaner. We have to keep educating and showing what we are doing to make things safer."
Dalton has even replaced all of it's equipment in the last two years to help focus on the safety of the players. After coming up just short in back-to-back 14U Super Bowls, Dalton defeated Pittsfield in double overtime to secure the title this season.
"What a crazy game," Melle said. "The 15-degree weather and snow was a big obstacle. We faced a tough Bulldogs team that fought every play. Our 19 seniors played with a lot of heart."
The youth football teams of the Berkshires are focused on created a safer game, and as a result they have produced plenty of talent in the county. Both the Pittsfield and Dalton teams were invited to the World Youth Championship Regional round in Sparta N.J., however, Dalton declined because they didn't want to take multi-sport athletes away from their other sports.
The World Youth Championship, which is hosted by the Hall of Fame, has often been defined as the Little League World Series of Football. Regional Director Rich Notillo says that the Berkshires will have the attention of the World Youth Championship for years to come.
"There is a great pocket of football still alive and well in the Western Mass. area," Notillo said. " It was exciting to have a strong team represent the area in our 14U Division. Teams in the Western Mass area will definitely be on our radar moving forward."
Like the Berkshires, the Hall of Fame is focused on player safety with the hope of appealing to youth athletes.
"This is an extremely positive experience not only for the athletes to step out of the area and compete against the best, but the programs involved," said Notillo. " It is our mission to rebuild the image of the great game of football."
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