If your child is interested in playing flag football, Pitman High School has just the league you’re looking for.
Next Level Sports, founded more than a decade ago by Serra (San Mateo) football coach Patrick Walsh, has leagues operating in 12 states, serving 25,000 children.
Pitman High will begin its second season as a Next Level satellite on Jan. 15 at Pitman High School.
What’s different about Next Level Sports is that practices and games are conducted one day a week, the same day each week — Sunday — with coaching and officiating duties handled by players at that satellite school. So, children in grades 1 through 8 who are interested in playing in one of four age divisions (grades 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8) will be coached by Pitman High players over the course of a 10-week season (Jan. 15 through March 19).
Brandon Pacheco, a physical education teacher at Pitman who just wrapped up his fourth season as the Pride’s defensive coordinator, is the site director. Think of him as the Pitman league’s version of Roger Goodell.
“I work behind the scenes to make sure everything’s set up,” said Pacheco, who is taking over this year for Lance Weckerle, a former Pitman head coach. “Next Level takes care of the equipment and the payroll.”
Next Level flag football guarantees that all players will get to play both offense and defense. "We’re focusing on development,” said Pacheco. “And we’re trying to expose the game to more kids that would not normally play padded football.”
Walsh played high school football for powerhouse De La Salle — the Spartans went undefeated in his senior year and started the school’s legendary 151-game winning streak — and then went on to play collegiately at San Jose State. His Serra squads have represented Northern California the past two seasons in the CIF Open Division championship game. It was a dozen years ago when his son wanted to play football. With no options available for a kindergartener, Walsh decided to start a league of his own and enlisted the help of his players.
He started with 400 kids in 2012.
“My goal is to spread the game of football to as many families and kids as possible, in a passionate and loving way,” said Walsh, whose son is now a senior at Serra. “What that leads to, I don’t know. Way back in the day I thought maybe it would be great to have 1,000 kids. Now, maybe that’s 100,000. Maybe we become the Little League of flag football. Who knows? Maybe someday our games will be televised on ESPN. I’m just fortunate that I’m one of those people who can say they’ve never worked a day in their life … because I love the game of football.”
Pitman High senior Joey Stout, who was the Central California Athletic League’s Outstanding Back of the Year and the Outstanding Special Teams Player of the Year, is entering his second year as a Next Level coach, a position that allows him to put a few dollars in his pocket.
“It’s not just about making money,” said Stout, who put in about 14-20 hours a week at football practices, workouts and studying his playbook during the football season, apart from academics. “It’s about building these kids up and preparing them for the upper levels. I love seeing the joy on their faces out there having fun, even if we’re losing.”
In many cases, Next Level is the first job many of these coaches/officials have ever held.
“I’ll never forget the first time these guys got a paycheck,” said Walsh, who took over as Serra’s coach in 2001 at age 26. “They said to me, ‘Coach, I thought you were paying me $15 an hour? This doesn’t add up.’ I told them, ‘Welcome to America. It’s called Social Security tax and state tax and all the other realities that adults have to deal with every month.’”
Registration for the league is $275, which includes uniform (shorts, T-shirt) and use of equipment.
The 1-2 and 3-4 grade divisions practice at 9 a.m. each Sunday and play games at 10 a.m. The 5-6 division practices at 10 and plays at 11, while the 7-8 division will practice at 11 and play at noon.
For more information or to register, visit nextlevelsports.com and then, from the drop-down menu, select Flag Football, then California, then Central Valley, then Turlock-Pitman H.S.