The Bristol Academy has long been revered as a sentient of British American football at junior level. When they announced the birth of the Bristol Academy Community League it was seen as a pioneering moment for the sport. Junior football that cuts down travel expenses, increases competition and allows kids to gain experience and excellent coaching on a more personal level? Excellent stuff.
And now the Highland Wildcats have followed suit, creating the Highland Academy Community League (HACL). The Wildcats, a brand of the Inverness Blitz Academy of American Football, were formed in 2002 but expanded to cover all regional teams to represent the Blitz at a national level in 2008, winning national titles to boot. They are now looking inwards to improve at the local level and see the HACL as the perfect way to achieve this improvement.
Robbie Paulin, whose work in the community has seen flag tournaments develop from primary school and high school level, is a big fan of the Bristol model and firmly believes in following suit in the HACL.
‘We’d always get drop offs in the Wildcats from January because of the four month wait for a competitive game and because of the weather. Whereas now the players will have competition much earlier,’ said Paulin. ‘This was also true of our school programmes, you’d always hear the questions in , “When are we getting games?”, “Will it be contact?”. With the Community League they now get competition in a controlled manner, right in their school and it gives a big boost of experience before the national league.”
The HACL will run out of five schools (Milburn Academy, Charleston Academy, Culloden Academy, Inverness Royal Academy and Inverness High School), running within the school year, each with its own identity, logo and uniform. This was an important factor in the creation of the league.
“We wanted to give the players something to attach themselves to,” Paulin continued. “Something for them to fight for, and to feel part of.”
The League has already had a good number of backers, including for the logos and uniforms.
Black Cube Designs created the HACL logo, whilst Steve Russam created each team logo.
Insane Sports along with Black Cube Designs will be taking on the task of creating the uniforms, the designs of which look superb. But further from this the League has some excellent sponsorship already.
Local business, The Carpet Emporium, has already generously input a cash contribution, whilst Osteo Centra, a local physiotherapist, has offered a free session per week. PJC Entertainment has offered the use of audio equipment to increase the gameday experience and sportsmatch has offered to double all sponsor money raised.
The HACL are planning to hold promotion days out of each school, which will include a stall in the foyer area of each academy, to drum up support and players. Then each Highland Wildcat coach will act as Head Coach to a team, meaning they will gain experience themselves as coaches.
The League, which will take place from around the early Spring of next year, will be based on the 5v5 format of youth football and the four game days will see each team playing between one and three games, two games versus each team in total. The Highland Bowl will then take place on the 15th March between the first and second best teams over the game days. It will boost competitive spirit, experience for players and coaches, combat player drop off and boost the profile of the sport in the local community. In fact it’s hard to see any disadvantage.
So is this the future of youth football in Great Britain? It’s a distinct possibility. But HACL isn’t the Highland Wildcats’ only new project this year. They have also started the Positive Life Pathways initiative, which will see American football being used as a tool to help improve the lives of 14-18 year olds.
Using the natural team-orientated mentality of the sport, the initiative will hope to engage players from troubled backgrounds into schedules and get them to commit to something meaningful, and give them the opportunity to return and volunteer as coaches after ageing out as players. Further than this the Pathways programme will give opportunities to young people who don’t want to be directly involved as a player or leader, such as game day managers, journalists writing game reports, photographers documenting the day on camera and videographers to create highlight reels.
The project has received backing from the Gannochy Trust, the Robertson Trust, the Garfield Western Foundation and Common Good Fund. Two things are for sure. The future of youth football in the area is secure and in good hands. And it’s an excellent time to be associated with the Highland Wildcats.