Even though he’d caught a pass for a nice gain, one kid was near tears because, he said, a defensive player had held him.
Another decided that the interval between plays was a good time to meander over to the far sideline, kneel down and play in a patch of dirt.
And every break in the action was an occasion for players to break into dances they might perform just as though they were alone in front of a TV, instead of on the field, under the lights of Count Basie Field.
Welcome to pee wee flag football, and the season finale for Red Bank Pop Warner’s littlest squad.
Nobody bothers to keep score, and the coaches stay on the narrowed field throughout the game, making sure the five- and six-year-old players are in the proper position and facing in the right direction when the ball is snapped.
But once the play starts, they’re as focused as can be, with offensive players looking for gaps in the line and defenders diving for the flags attached to the ballcarrier’s belt.
Head coach Chris Zatorski said he was thrilled that Red Bank’s teams, which draw on Red Bank, Shrewsbury and Little Silver, attracted 45 players this season, up from 27 last year. And 10 of this year’s youngest squad will be back next season, he says.
Among this season’s best players was six-year-old Taylor Crystian of Leighton Ave, the team’s only girl this year. She’s not the first; Zatorsky has had three female players in the past four years.
Tall and fleet, Taylor had her heart set on being a cheerleader, says her mom, Memone Crystian. But when the long-disbanded cheering squad stayed disbanded for lack of interest this year, Taylor decided she wanted to be on the field as a player, just as her seven-year-old brother is with Red Bank’s Mighty Mites. She often scores two touchdowns a game.
“She is having the time of her life,” says her mother.
At the conclusion of Monday night’s game against Matawan-Aberdeen, the two teams lined up for customary handshakes and high-fives, then huddled for one last break. Zatorski told the parents to let the kids wear their jerseys for Halloween if they wanted; they could be returned afterward.
“I played football for 12 years, and now I rush home from the city to do this,” he tells redbankgreen between goodbyes and thank-yous from parents and players. “It is so exciting.”