Flag football comes to town

Coastie with a passion for the game attracts 22 players for first season

Kaiden Graves, player for the 49ers, evades opponents Travis Kuhn and Dexter Gasmen, of the Seahawks, during the first half of the July 29 game, as Graves makes his way to a touchdown. The games are played on the Whitshed Road grassy field. Photo by Melanie O’Rourke/For The Cordova Times

Flag football has come to town, thanks to the efforts of a U.S. Coast Guardsman and the Cordova Amateur Youth Athletics Corp.

Meet Justin Graham, an engineering supervisor at the U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Support Facility in Cordova, and director of the CAYAC Youth Flag Football League.

Graham, who hails from San Clemente, Calif., is passionate about football. So when Graham, a Coast Guard veteran of 15 years, was asked by CAYAC member Bret Bradford to start a flag football league here, he immediately accepted.

Graham began spreading the word in May, via Facebook posts, flyers on bulletin boards and word of mouth, trying to drum up enough interest among kids and their parents.

“I took it and ran,” Graham said. “I’ve ran teams before in the Lower 48. I hope to make flag football a culture sport here.”

His efforts attracted just 22 players between the ages of 6 and 15, just enough to make two teams, and so far those kids are really taking to it, he said.

Practice started on July 14, and to date the 49ers and the Seahawks have played two games. They play every Saturday at 1 p.m., under official NFL Flag Football rules.

Their season is five games in five weeks, with the final matchup Aug. 26 in their own Super Bowl game.

“We’ve had to adjust the teams accordingly,” Graham said. “Some kids are 15, all the way down to a couple of six-year-olds. We balance it out, so it’s not too competitive. The kids are having a great time and that’s what it’s all about. We make it work, and they’re having fun.”

Seahawks and 49ers players congratulate each other after the end of the July 29 game.
Photo by Melanie O’Rourke/For The Cordova Times

While the league is in its infant stage this summer, Graham said he’s hoping that after this season, the kids and parents will help promote the sport, and it’ll take off next year.

“I’m hopeful I can really encourage registration before the end of the next school year,” he said. “We’d like to promote and encourage this sport, and have a lot more kids involved. We just need to get the word out, so people know we’re here and this sport is happening in Cordova.”

It’s a learning experience, too.

Acting as assistant coach, commissioner, referee and quality control manager, Graham is teaching the proper fundamentals of NFL-rules football to the players.

And, playing flag football isn’t breaking parents’ wallets, either, he said, describing the sport as affordable.

For the $25 registration fee, kids get to keep their officially licensed NFL jerseys and their game flags, he said.

“It’s a pretty inexpensive sport. I also want to mention that we’re fully insured – CAYAC supports the insurance, and we’ll do trophies after the final Super Bowl game,” Graham said. “We’re low budget and high intensity. This is a great opportunity for the kids. We’re flexible with schedules and trying to do the best we can for everyone involved, but when it comes down to it, it’s a very good thing for the community.

“We had a really good turn out last Saturday. One kid took the ball, then took off and went 80-yards for a touchdown – the crowd was screaming,” he said.

Graham’s love of football stems from watching games as a small child with his parents on Sundays.

“I decided to be a 49ers fan early, while living in the Bay area. Football has instilled many great values in me, and provided me with some awesome principles in helping to make me the man I am today. Some of these are perseverance, teamwork, pride, passion, and work ethic,” he said.

Graham said he lost his father at a very young age, so his mother used football as a bonding tool.

“Some could say, in a way, that football is my father. I am an avid fan and season ticket holder for the 49ers franchise. I hope to give all the greatness that the game of football has to offer, to Cordova’s youth. I can’t wait to continue this amazing league for years to come,” he said.

Kaiden Graves, player for the 49ers, evades opponents Travis Kuhn and Dexter Gasmen, of the Seahawks, during the first half of the July 29 game, as Graves makes his way to a touchdown. The games are played on the Whitshed Road grassy field.
Photo by Melanie O’Rourke/For The Cordova Times

CAYAC Flag Football League team rosters

The Seahawks: Evan Fields, coach; Justin Graham, assistant coach; players Travis Kuhn, DeAndre Johnson, Asa Carter, Trevor Dundas, Teagan O’Rourke, Grace Martin, Dexter Gasmen, J.T. Anderson, Trent Dundas, Marcus Holley, Bastien Wagner and Max Osborn.

The 49ers: Mike Merritt, coach; Justin Graham, assistant coach; players Brian Shapleigh, Kaiden Graves, Cole Hanson, Xavier Russin, Jacob Hamberger, Rita Martin, Samuel Martin, Mathew Rush, Brady McManus, Micah Phillips, Steven Palmas, Blake Bailey, Lilly Kuhn and Kevin Chung.

Referees: Justin Graham, commissioner, and Andrew Anderson.

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at cgibbens-stimson@thecordovatimes.com or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.