The Under Armour Under The Lights Flag Football National Championships that took place at UCLA over the weekend featured five teams from the Santa Clarita Valley in four different divisions.
The K-2 Michigan team, the 3rd-4th grade USC team, the 5th-6th grade Alabama team and the 7th-8th grade Thunder and Raiders squads all traveled to Westwood Saturday morning for the two-day national tournament that featured 48 total teams.
“It was fantastic, they did phenomenal competing with teams nationally,” said Marc Danny, commissioner of the Under The Lights Santa Clarita program. “Overall our league up here competed really well and they excelled, I’m proud of them all. I’m proud of the coaches, all the families that came and supported them, the community involvement. I’m just so proud of our league.”
The biggest surprise of the weekend came out of the 7th-8th grade division, where the Raiders made a run to the semifinals.
After finishing in second place during the regular season behind the Thunder, the Raiders weren’t even slated to participate in the national competition, but after an Arizona team dropped out, Danny told officials the Raiders could take that spot.
The team took their opportunity and ran with it, beating their counterparts the Thunder on the way to a semifinal matchup, where they lost in overtime.
“They got third in the nation, they lost the semifinal in the overtime, almost made it to the championship,” Danny said. “They were a last-second throw-in. Those kids battled all year long and I’m so proud of them.”
The Michigan team also turned heads in the K-2 bracket, going 3-0 in pool play on Saturday. They won their first game on Sunday in the single-elimination portion, before losing in the quarterfinals.
What’s more impressive is that they did it without their head coach, who had to travel to New York before the start of the tournament.
The 5th-6th grade Alabama team went undefeated during the regular season and made its second straight appearance in the national tournament.
“Our K-2 team went 3-0 on Saturday and the head coach got called away to New York, so the substitute coaches filled in,” Danny said. “To go 3-0 and play on Sunday, win their first game and make it to the quarterfinals without having their head coach, they did unbelievable.”
They went 2-1 in pool play, losing the last game on Saturday in overtime to the state champs from Florida. Alabama won its first game on Sunday, but fell in the quarterfinals.
With numbers in tackle football beginning to dwindle, flag football continues to gain popularity according to Danny. It provides young athletes the opportunity to compete in the sport with less risk of injury involved.
Flag football is becoming so popular in California in particular, that Danny believes a state tournament will arrive in the near future.
“We’re seeing those numbers dwindling in the tackle area,” Danny said. “The demand is getting so high for flag football, all the California operators, we all put our heads together with support from Under The Lights and Under Armour and they want us to put together a state tournament here. UCLA would be the venue.”
In only its second year, the Under The Lights Santa Clarita program is also seeing its numbers increase.
The flag football program is open to boys and girls of all skill levels from kindergarten to 8th grade. Danny said there are a few girls who are already in the program, and he’s looking for his first female coach to join a team.
Registration for the fall and winter league is currently open, with play scheduled to begin on Nov. 1. More information can be found at www.uaflag.com and clicking on the Santa Clarita home page in the ‘Locate Youth League’ tab.