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New flag football league flies high in first season

November 23, 2018

GREENWICH — The town’s newest flag football league started with just a few parents, but it exploded into a 180-child-strong association that finished its first season last weekend and now plans to expand this spring.

The program, named after the Old Greenwich Riverside Community Center, is the most successful startup in the center’s 75-year history of running recreational leagues, co-founder Scott Moroney said. It is also the first and only group to provide an alternative to the 10-year-old Greenwich Flag Football League.

“We’re trying to be the new name in town,” said Moroney, who is also a North Mianus School physical education teacher.

The town has multiple baseball, basketball and soccer leagues, but parents who want an alternative to the GFFL had no other choices, he said.

Many of the 185 kids who signed this year had previously played in the GFFL, he said. But some parents who felt the league had grown too large to let every child play or to remain community-oriented approached Moroney and his co-teacher, Pat Prisinzano, about starting a league of their own.

The two brought their approach to teaching, which emphasizes having fun while developing social skills and fostering a lifelong active lifestyle, to the field. They cap each team at 10 kids, and place a premium on one-to-one interaction between the coaches and players.

“We’ve changed the whole culture,” Moroney said. “It’s been wildly successful.”

GFFL Director Dee Fludd stands by his league. Youth sports can get competitive, Fludd said, but he keeps teams to 10 to 12 kids and matches them with teams of similar athletic ability.

“We have something for everybody, that’s why we have such a large program,” he said. “You can play against teams at your level.”

Nor does the size impede the community environment, he said. GFFL attracts kids from all over town, and the league offers scholarships to children from Greenwich affordable housing areas such as Armstrong Court and Wilbur Peck.

Fludd welcomes the competition, however.

“It’s on them,” he said. “We’re pretty successful in what we do.”

The new league attracted families from North Mianus, Cos Cob and Riverside, Moroney said. For the North Mianus parents, the switch was easy, since their kids already love Moroney and Prisinzano’s P.E. class.

The two are great teachers, said parent Buddy Kitselman, who left for the OGRCC Flag Football League this year.

“They do so much that goes above and beyond,” Kitselman said of the two teachers. “That’s why when the league became an option — that’s how much they care.”

His second-grader Cooper and his kindergartner Brodie both played and had great experiences, he said. As a parent, he felt the difference from the first day.

“It was very communal, parents were helping out to get kids set up, whether you were on one team or the other. It was a different vibe,” Kitselman said. “They wanted to make sure this was a fun, family-friendly experience.”

Matt Murphy, the parent of 8-year-old Jack, made the switch for the new league’s culture.

“Scott and Pat have a high set of values, I have faith in them as leaders,” Murphy said. “Having known them, they’re my son’s gym teachers, I knew they would ... teach the kids sportsmanship, and teach them to respect the game and each other.”

Comfort motivated the move, too. Murphy, who coached the championship team of first- and second-graders, understands there is an appropriate level of competition for 12- to 16-year-olds — who can handle the pressure — but one that is not meant for elementary schoolers, he said.

Parent Jenny Allen appreciated that the startup had its own girls’ teams, in which her two daughters played.

“I can’t say enough good things, my girls loved the program and thrived in it,” Allen said. “I think the program is going to be a hit, for sure.”

One hurdle the new league faces is access to turf. The presence of two leagues highlights the glaring need for more field space in town, Kitselman said.

Currently, the town has three turf fields between Greenwich High School and Cos Cob Park, but school sports and established recreation leagues, such as GFFL, fill all the available slots.

Instead, the league played on the grass fields at Greenwich Catholic School this fall, but the rain and the snow cost players lost three weeks of practice and game time.

Moroney and Prisinzano had to scramble to find indoor space for the championship game last Saturday, just two days after the season’s first snowstorm.

The co-founders are willing to go the extra mile because they do so as teachers, Moroney said.

Playing games with kids daily, he and Prisinzano see firsthand how sports, like everything in childhood today, is different from when they grew up. Moroney’s nostalgia for lawn-chair chatter and trophies for champions only makes the league old-fashioned, he said.

Moroney remembers tossing the football back and forth with his friends, idolizing high-school athletes, before the street lights signaled it was time to go home.

He decided to bring that feeling to his league, bringing on high-school football players to coach and mentor kids.

“We’re bringing the community back together,” he said.

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