For many years, lots of 6th-, 7th- and 8th-graders who wanted to play football in the fall couldn't because they committed the sin of being too big.
Now, thanks to a new fall football and cheer league, and the hard work of several youth football activists, those bigger kids finally have a place to go.
Welcome the Lee County Hawks, the new association in the Southwest Florida Youth Football League (SWFYFL), which allows kids between the ages of 5 and 15 to take part in football and cheer, regardless of their size.
The league is partially sponsored by FBU (Football University), which holds football camps for elite players and holds the annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
The program, which has seven teams based on age, is based in Cape Coral, playing its games at Mariner High School and practicing at Trafalgar Middle School.
Frank Connelley, commissioner of the program, said the league and team were formed to fill a void in the area, the one created by big kids who can't play because Pop Warner rules won't allow them to.
"The difference between us and Pop Warner is there is no weight limit, but only goes up to the 8th grade, whereas you can be a high school sophomore and play Pop Warner," Connelley said. "I couldn't believe how many kids were sitting on the sidelines, looking for a place to play football."
Many in Collier County felt the same way and decided to follow the Hawks into the league.
Practice started on July 22, with the kickoff jamboree on a recent weekend in Naples.
Connelley said there are seven associations in the area, two in Lee County (with Dunbar being the other). Others include Marco Island, three in the Naples area and Golden Gate.
The league has five divisions, U6, U8, U10, U12 and U15. The Hawks have seven teams, with two each at the U10 and U12 levels, Connelley said. The U15 has the most with 36 players, with plenty over the Pop Warner 180-pound weight limit.
"We were totally elated with the turnout. Some are Pop Warner kids, but only a few. Right now, with cheer we have about 270 kids," Connelley said. "There are going to be bumps. Some teams don't have all five teams, but if the desire is there you can make anything work."
By way of comparison, Cape Coral Junior has about 415 kids.
Connelley said at the end of the season, the league will form three All-Star teams at the 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade level to take part in a 64-team tournament, with the top teams playing in the Alamo Dome in San Antonio in January.
Perhaps the most rewarding thing Connelley has seen is the smiles on the kids' faces of those who never thought they'd be able to play football until they reached high school.
"We have 6h-graders who are big kids who can play now. We have someone from the Boston area who has started his own unweighted league. I think this is going to catch on," Connelley said.