From two teams in 2009 to three teams in 2011, the Prince George Minor Football Association atom division has since doubled its membership and this season put six teams on the field to learn a few of life's valuable lessons.
The seven- eight- and nine-year-old neophytes of football got a crash course in the importance of relying on your fellow workers to get the job done, how a positive attitude can overcome adversity, how to show respect for your peers and people of authority, and the real meaning of a strong work ethic to accomplish a goal.
Most importantly, they had a lot of a fun on the football field.
There were enough players signed up in the youngest age group in the PGMFA to make four Prince George teams (up one from last year), joining Vanderhoof and a new team from Quesnel.
Michael Keryluik, coach of the Prince George Integris Stashers and the PGMFA's marketing sales co-ordinator, says the growth of the league is directly related to the efforts of league directors, coaches and other volunteers who promote the game as a healthy recreational activity that suits kids of all body types and levels of athleticism.
"A lot of people are doing a lot of very good work," said Keryluik. "We did year-end surveys and a lot of the comments I noted were that parents were very happy and impressed with the coaches and the amount of time and care and effort they were putting into it. We focused a lot of safety but we also focused on fun and had lots of character-building components as well. I think the parents appreciate that when they start to see what everybody's putting into it."
In these days of putting kids in overprotective bubbles to keep them from harm, full-contact tackle football is one of the last bastions of the school of hard knocks and the kids who play it, love it.
"Boys like to wrestle and get bruised up but they aren't allowed to roughhouse, it's always 'Hands off, you can't do this,' and football is an opportunity to actually get physical and get dirty in a world where a lot of that opportunity has been taken away," said Keryluik.
He said one of the most challenging aspects of being a coach trying to figure out which kid is best at which position. There's never a shortage of players who want the high-profile jobs -- quarterback or running back -- but they all can't have that role.
"The most important unsung heroes are the linemen," said Keryluik. "If they're not protecting or creating the lane, then the person with the ball has nowhere to go. In soccer or hockey, a lot of kids can run around and chase the ball or the puck, but in football, the players almost have to have position-specific roles to make a play work. In a way it's kind of like life. We have people who collect garbage, we have people who sweep floors, people who work in retail or drive trucks, and all those positions are important in the big picture. Everyone goes to work with pride, and that's what we're trying to teach kids."