The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Oregon Ducks 30-12 Wednesday afternoon.
Granted, this was a flag football game between two teams of fifth-graders, not the perennially notable NFL and college football teams.
It was played on a patch of grass on the playground of Amistad Elementary School, not in a stadium. And not only are the players not paid millions to play, the captains of both teams downplayed the game’s outcome.
“It’s not really about the score; it’s just having fun,” said Miguel Alcalan, 11, the Ducks’ leader.
That attitude is a stark change from the fights and classroom disruptions that used to occur after recess at the central Kennewick school before the flag football program launched a few months ago.
Fifth-grade teachers have remarked on improved study habits and homework from the players, and Principal Andy Woehler has seen frequent troublemakers show up less often in his office.
It’s all part of a grand plan orchestrated by Rick Corson and his fellow Kennewick Kiwanis members to teach the students great sportsmanship and the importance of school, making good choices and that they are valued.
“We don’t just play football,” Corson said.
Kennewick Kiwanis began looking for a signature project to serve the community and meet the Kiwanis mission of improving the world one child at a time about a year ago, said Corson, a former law enforcement officer and retired Benton County coroner.
The Kennewick club had raised and provided money to many causes over the years, but the benefits of those efforts weren’t clear or as hands-on.
That led the group to look at working in education, inspired by the work of other civic-minded organizations. Specifically, they wanted to go into mentoring, Corson said, with the ideal of following the kids as they went from elementary school to middle school and perhaps even high school.
“I enjoy mentoring youth because I feel that’s the future,” he said.
The club decided to approach Amistad, one of the more diverse schools in Kennewick, where most students receive free or reduced-price meals because of their families’ economic status.
Knowing they needed to build a relationship with students before they could gain their trust, Woehler recommended they help organize flag football during fifth-grade recess this spring.
Corson simplified the rules to make the games go faster and limit disputes — each team has six tries to score a touchdown. If the opposing team intercepts the ball, play stops and they begin their six attempts to reach the goal line. Quarterbacks have five seconds to pass or run.
There are three teams of eight, with the winning team playing the one that sat out the last game. Stephen Awjat’s Seahawks squad, which has won six straight games, will play the Cougars, which has a female captain, on April 24.
“There’s no secret, I just tell them to have fun,” he said of his teammates.
Corson acts more as a referee but he relies on the students to police themselves, teaching them to be honest when they go out of bounds or don’t fully catch the ball before falling to the ground.
That mentality of being responsible for one’s actions extends to when the students aren’t playing. A backlog of homework or disciplinary problems in the classroom can lead to suspensions. Even Stephen was suspended one game for a poor choice made off the field.
“They make mistakes, but they learn that making mistakes is a learning process,” Corson said.
The potential to play, or be barred from playing, has had a noticeable effect on Amistad’s fifth-graders, Woehler said. Teachers note that students have become more diligent when they are told they won’t be able to take the field unless they finish their work. Students who were previously frequent troublemakers have far fewer referrals or aren’t getting in trouble at all.
“What we’re seeing is the kids will do anything to get out here and play,” he said.
While being able to play sports shouldn’t be the sole reason a student should go to school, Woehler and Corson noted that it’s an appropriate carrot to dangle in front of youths who aren’t yet mature enough to fully understand the value of an education.
This isn’t where Kiwanis will stop with these kids, Corson said. The club is already looking at a reading initiative and possible pen pal program at Amistad.
The fifth-graders will become sixth-graders at Park Middle School next year, and Kiwanis will look to continue mentoring them as they move through that school. The flag football program has expanded to include fourth-graders who clamored to be allowed to play.
And besides, the football being played is pretty entertaining too.
“I don’t get out here to watch these games enough,” Woehler said as the Ducks celebrated a touchdown.