By Kyle LoJacono
For the last 36 years, children have been playing football and participating in cheerleading with the Pasco Police Athletic League, but there may not be a 37th season.
PPAL has lost two organizations, the Lutz Chiefs and New Tampa Wildcats, since 2008, and many of the parents and players from the Trinity Mustangs recently left the league to form a new team called the South Pasco Steelers.
Lisa Penzer, president of the Chiefs, previously said about leaving the league, “PPAL doesn’t let kids who are small for their age play down in a younger age class. PPAL also doesn’t have any flag football divisions anymore, which our new league does.”
The Chiefs, which were in PPAL for nearly 30 years, now play in the Tampa Bay Youth Football League in Hillsborough County with the Steelers, while the Wildcats play in the national Pop Warner league.
Penzer said there were other reasons for Lutz leaving, including wanting to play in a Hillsborough league. She did say the departure was at least half due to not allowing small children play down in a younger age group, known as the play-down rule.
PPAL had allowed play-downs in the past, but changed the rule before the 2009 season. Both TBYFL and Pop Warner allow play-downs.
There are nine teams left in PPAL, which include: the Land O’ Lakes Gators, Wesley Chapel Bulls, Zephyrhills Bulldogs, Dade City Pirates, New Port Richey Buccaneers, Crews Lake Cowboys, Hudson Cobras, West Hernando Cougars and what is left of the Mustangs.
The Steelers, which expects to have players from Land O’ Lakes and Lutz to Holiday, is the only Pasco County team in the 41-year-old TBYFL.
“We wanted what was best for the kids, and it was very difficult to split from PPAL,” said Chris Householder, Steelers athletic director. “One of the main issues was having no play-downs because we don’t want to see kids get hurt just because they are small for their age. TBYFL is the premier youth football program in Hillsborough County and we are excited to be a part of it.”
Householder was the Mustang athletic director for three years.
Losing the Chiefs and much of the Mustangs would be concerning enough for the league, but the exodus may not be over.
While no one wanted to be named, members of at least four of the remaining nine PPAL teams expressed their displeasure with the league. Of those, three had high-ranking members say they were contemplating leaving PPAL for another youth football organization if the current direction of the league continues. Numerous grievances were given, but the one that was repeated was not allowing play-downs.
“This is actually the first I’m hearing of the play-down rule being an issue over the last few weeks,” said Tim Couet, PPAL executive director. “We will be planning the date to vote on rule changes at the end of February and I’m sure this will be something we will be talking about with the team directors then.”
Couet said the directors from the remaining nine teams will meet with the PPAL executive board to vote on new rules. The board once included PPAL president Mark Gardiner, but he recently resigned amid the problems in the league. Couet said PPAL has decided to eliminate the president position in favor of one where team directors have bigger say in rule changes.
Gardiner’s leaving did eliminate some frustration from those in PPAL because the former president was said to listen to no one. Penzer said when the Chiefs told Gardiner they were leaving, he told them to “have a nice time” because he was not considering bringing back the play-down rule.
“We are nowhere near losing more teams and I think the play-down rule will be resolved shortly,” he said. “I have heard about the issue from many people, including parents who just want their kids to be safe while playing. Those concerns are legitimate and PPAL will do what is right for those children and families.”
In regards to losing the Chiefs and much of the Mustangs, Couet said, “The Sheriff’s Office wishes the best to Chris Housholder in the new venture with TBYFL. However, we want it be absolutely clear that the Trinity PPAL organization will continue to be a cornerstone in the community encouraging our youth to participate in athletics…We also wish the Chiefs the best in their partnership with TBYFL.”
The Dade City Pirates are also in a bit of turmoil after their director stepped down after last season.
“We are trying to help the team pull together for this season,” Couet said. “We feel we need to have a good PPAL organization in Dade City because it’s a big area with a lot of kids that can take advantage of playing football.”