Spectators who hung around after the end of the New York Jets vs. Los Angeles Rams game last Sunday at MetLife Stadium got to see a bit of New Paltz youth in action. Fifth- and sixth-grade boys from the New Paltz Hurricanes youth football team were invited to play against a team of their peers on the field just vacated by the professionals.
“The NFL does this to help boost the youth football programs,” says Edward Shuman, former coach of the New Paltz Hurricanes and current board member of the nonprofit organization. The youngsters got the opportunity to play at MetLife Stadium after the board submitted a request to the NFL at the beginning of the football season, with the winners chosen by lottery. Usually the youth teams play at halftime, says Shuman, but since the New Paltz team played after the 1 p.m. Jets/Rams game, they had the advantage of more playing time on the field with the NFL game over at that point.
The organization’s cheerleading team also went down to New Jersey to rally behind the players, and some of the younger division football players went for the experience, as well.
The New Paltz Hurricanes are part of the Orange County Youth Football League (OCYFL). Associated with U.S.A. Football — which in turn is associated with the NFL — the team plays “Heads Up Football,” a program in which the boys are taught to play (literally) with their heads up instead of leading with their heads as young players in the past did.
Coaches in Heads Up Football programs are certified in a number of protocol that makes playing football safer for their young charges. Training is given on recognizing concussions and knowing how to respond appropriately, proper hydration, fitting equipment correctly to put the young athletes at less risk of injury and heads-up tackling and blocking techniques that reduce helmet contact.
The New Paltz Hurricanes organization is also a feeder program for all the local school athletic programs in football and cheer. “The players learn skills on our team that allow them more easily to get on school teams when the time comes,” Shuman says. “I have two older boys, twins, that aged out this year and moved up to the modified program at the school. We try to teach the same techniques, so that when they get there, they’re already familiar with the design.”
Some of the kids at New Paltz High School who just won the Section 9 Class B football title for the year likely played in the Hurricanes organization as youngsters, he says.
And because the organization is nonprofit, they couldn’t do it without their local business sponsors, Shuman says. “We charge the parents a fee at the beginning of the year that covers them to play the season. But there are a lot of expenses that go along with that. We have to deal with upkeep of the field, pay for the referees, insurance… there are a lot of things that have to be paid for.”
Sponsors this season included Ulster Savings Bank, NAPA AutoCare Center, Murphy’s Restaurant & Pub, Dreyer Law Offices, Absolutely Automotive, P&G’s Restaurant, FirstCare Walk-in Medical Center and Heckeroth Plumbing, Heating and Electric.
The exhibition game at MetLife Stadium was the final game for the Hurricanes’ 2015-16 season. And unfortunately, next year is in limbo, because they’re losing their playing field at the New Paltz Middle School due to the upcoming capital project work scheduled there. “They’re talking about tearing the field up next year for construction, so that leaves us in jeopardy as to where we can play,” Shuman says. “This year they were able to move some of the construction stuff to the front of the school, but the district has told us that next year we won’t have a home there. We’re not allowed to play at the high school, and all the teams — lacrosse, soccer, baseball, field hockey — are going to need a field to play on. We might try to get something at the Field of Dreams, but we don’t know. We’re concerned about it, and we don’t know if any changes made will be permanent or not. It’s hard to say.”