OSSINING, N.Y. John Gualtiere and Marc Milano joined Ossining Little League Football seven years ago.
The two men coached together, moved up the ranks together and now sit on the leagues board. And in that time, they have helped transform the league.
Gualtiere started out by helping his brother-in-law, who coached in the league, with practices. Now, he is the OLLF president.
Milano started out as a coach of one of the flag football teams; he now serves as commissioner of the flag league and one of OLLFs leaders. But the two men, along with several others, had an idea of where they wanted to take the league.
We were a rag-tag bunch of guys just trying to figure out what were doing, and just having fun, Gualtiere said. It was a growing league and things were going, and we started with flag.
The flag league is now the most vital component of the entire OLLF. Gualtiere said the flag football league, thanks to parent and child involvement, has grown exponentially in the past seven years.
The flag league has become a feeder system for the third- and fourth-grade tackle league, and the fifth- and sixth-grade tackle league after that. Those teams, in turn, have developed into a feeder system for local high schools such as Ossining High School, Briarcliff High School, Stepinac High School and Iona Prep.
Overall enrollment in OLLF has dropped to 188, but Gualtiere and Milano said the goal is to climb above 200 again next season. Their main focus, they say, is to teach the children fundamentals of football in a way that is both safe and fun.
The sport of football has really come under fire in the press recently, Milano said. Were trying to teach kids how to play football properly so they dont get injured.
To that end, the OLLF brought in Scott Lancaster, a former NFL player, to teach the young players proper fundamentals and movements of the game. The league also purchased new equipment for the children to wear.
The various OLLF teams also have the chance to play on high-quality turf fields. Announcers call out the athletes names, and parents run concession stands, to give the events a professional feel.
Gualtiere and Milano stress that the leagues transformation was not strictly their own doing. Others, including Kevin Curtin, Jim Curry and Christopher Raguso, have all had a hand in shaping the leagues present and future.
Its unquestionably an entire team effort, Gualtiere said. Theres no one person to say, theyre the catalyst, or anything like that.
The two men expressed special appreciation to the Ossining Athletic Department and the Recreation Departments of Briarcliff and Ossining for allowing OLLF to use their fields.
Without those three groups, we wouldnt have a program, Gualtiere said.
The OLLF plays in the Westchester Youth Football League and attracts players from Ossining, Briarcliff, Croton and Cortlandt Manor.
The league will hold its traditional "Saturday Night Lights" event on November 3, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Veterans Park. The flag and tackle teams will play against each other, and the third- to sixth-grade tackle players will be introduced as they prepare for their final game.
The following day, Nov. 4, will be All Ossining Day at Anne M. Dormer Middle School. This event ends the season, with four home games for Ossining.
The OLLF will hold its annual Awards Dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Goldstein Gymnasium on the Pleasantville campus of Pace University. The dinner officially ends the season, and includes guest speakers, trophy presentations, raffles, 50/50 drawings and other activities.
Milano, an attorney, recently acquired not-for-profit status for the league, so the OLLF can now provide scholarships to young athletes to help defray the cost of participation.
This past March, the board met and mapped out a plan for where they want to take the league and ultimately allow it to operate totally in the black.
But even with all those events and the improved games, the two men are not yet finished with helping transform the league.
The only thing missing is cheerleaders, Milano said. But thats in the budget for next year.
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