WESTERLY — Westerly High football coach Duane Maranda knows it's coming. He just wants to be ready when it arrives.
Tackle football at the youth level has faced some calls for change over the past few years across the country.
State legislatures in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and California have seen legislation introduced that would limit tackle football for those of a certain age. Most would not allow those 12 and under to play full-contact football.
While none of the proposals has become law, they have attracted significant attention.
Maranda said he expects it will just be a matter of time before similar measures are introduced locally.
As a result, this fall Maranda will be conducting a flag football league. The league will be part of the NFL Flag football program. All of the proceeds will go to the Westerly High football team, according to Maranda.
In the future, Maranda would like to establish a self-sufficient board to operate the league.
"We just want to get ahead of the curve. The NFL allows you to use their name. They supply a jersey for the player, which is a mini NFL jersey, they supply the flags and write the rules," Maranda said. "It's up to us to pay for our own insurance policy."
Maranda said the concussion issue is driving the emergence of flag football as an alternative for some families. He said the league is not intended to take away from the Westerly Peewee football program, which has been in existence for decades and is full contact at all age levels.
"That is not the case at all. We just want to keep kids playing the game," Maranda said. "Hopefully, they will go from flag to youth football with the pads. You can learn the game playing flag, and when you are ready to go put the full pads on that's a good transition. We are trying to tie in youth football as much as possible."
Maranda is seeking to have teams in 8U, 10U and 12U divisions. Games will be played on Saturday mornings at the Westerly Peewee field on Old Hopkinton Road.
Each team will have up to nine players on a roster. If more than that register in a certain age group a second team will be formed.
For now, games will be played with teams from other towns. Only one practice takes place a week and that occurs right before the game. Maranda hopes the Westerly league will eventually have enough teams to just play each other.
The season starts Sept. 7 and ends Oct. 28. Maranda has made adjustments in the high school's varsity practice schedule to allow his players to volunteer time with the program.
"East Greenwich started out with 50 [flag] players and now it's up to 450," Maranda said.
A fee of $100 will be charged. Those who receive free or reduced lunch in school will pay less. Registration is available at westerlyfootball.com.