WEST CHESTER >> When Alvie Kelly founded the Little All-American Football Association in West Chester, Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the middle of his second term as President of the United States.

This year LAFA is celebrating its 65th season. But the COVID-19 pandemic and the health problems associated with the football field were a double blow to the nonprofit, fully volunteer organization.

“The numbers were declining even before the pandemic, and then the pandemic hit us hard. We are trying to respond and recover, ”said LAFA Commissioner Greg Long.

“This is a key year for us.”

LAFA, which consists of three programs – football cuts, football with a flag and cheers – five years ago had about 450 participants. That number dropped to about 350 in 2019, and after closing for the 2020 season the level after the pandemic is in the range of 250-280. This is equal to a drop of more than 40 percent.

“When we came back after the weekend, everything was straightforward,” said Long, who lives in East Goshen.

Last summer, those numbers were so low that LAFA took a bold step by moving from a more than 60-year domestic league to joining the Independent Youth Football League with 15 teams (IYFL). Rebranding West Chester Shamrocks, LAFA now sponsors four age-old football teams (under 7 to 13) and three football teams (ages 5 to 12), and they compete with other youth programs from industries such as Avon. Grove, Kenneth Unionville, Oxford and Marple.

To meet the rest of the IYFL, Shamrocks offers two teams in each age group: junior and college. The ultimate goal is for LAFA to have two teams in each of the four age divisions.

“Internally, we don’t call it a joint venture and a university,” Long said. “We call it developmental and competitive.

IYFL development teams train twice a week and compete three times a week.

In the past, the football flag has attracted far fewer LAFA participants than the selection, but that seems to change. It is projected that this will be a growth zone not only at the local level but also at the regional and national levels.

“Our other task is to really build a football flag,” said Long, who played at a football college in 1988-91 in Wake Forest. “We’re running a ’50 for the Flag’ campaign so kids can play football for $ 50.”

Like football, the entertainment program has moved from domestic and is now moving to IYFL competitions. There are also plans to create a competition team that will eventually participate in cheerleading competitions.

“Our main focus now is to get registered because the league has to support itself,” Long said.

All Shamrock teams play home games on Kelly Field in West Goshen. The all-weather synthetic coating was installed in 2018 and should be replaced soon.

“It’s a modern realm,” Long said. “It’s better than what I played in college.

“We are raising funds, but registration is also a source of income for us. And replacing this field costs $ 750,000. ”

Registration is now open for all LAFA programs. The organization also runs spring football clinics at each of West Chester’s high schools on May 17-18, June 7-8 and June 14-15. For more information, go to lafawc.com.

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