Super Bowl for kids brings town together

Sun-Star correspondentNovember 8, 2012 

It's what brought Bob Kirchner out of retirement. And what takes up most of his time for half the year. Or more. It's also what he loves to talk about: football for little tikes in California's Trans Valley Youth Football League.

"The little guys -- only six and seven years old -- run around the field with helmets turned and their eyes peeking through ear holes. And when a teammate gets tackled, it's like ring-around-the-rosies, because they all fall down," Kirchner said.

He has dozens of stories from the past four years of organizing the TVYFL's Super Bowl in Mariposa.

The idea came from his son, Robert. But Kirchner's heart for young people led him to take the idea and run with it.

"The (Mariposa County) Board of Supervisors sort of gives me the key to the city for two weeks. I make a big mess of things, and then I clean it up," he said.

The TVYFL Super Bowl, of course, is modeled after the real one put on by the National Football League.

Local football players and cheerleaders from 6 to 14 compete with other Central Valley teams during the fall. When the season is over, the top 12 teams, six each from two (large school and small school) conferences, compete in three divisions: novice, junior varsity and varsity. There are three games on Saturday and three on Sunday, with the six winners crowned Super Bowl champions.

Bringing the Super Bowl to a small mountain town that relies heavily on tourism has made this one of the three biggest weekends of the year for Mariposa's hotels, restaurants and businesses.

This TVYFL Super Bowl is the largest on the West Coast. In 2009 about 3,000 visitors came to the foothills for the event.

Last year, Kirchner says, there were about 14,000. He's expecting close to the same this year.

Kirchner admits his budget is small. At the rate of about one a year, professional banners are being printed to replace the cardboard signs.

When the season's over, if there's money left, it's given to charities.

He believes the young superstars need to think of others. So far they've given to the Children's Hospital, Special Olympics and Feed the Children.

This weekend's festivities begin tonight in the center of town. The opening ceremony features a giant bonfire, music, coffee, hot cocoa and s'mores.

Saturday's and Sunday's playoff games will be held at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds, with varsity combine challenges taking place in between.

The combine tests players' skills in passing, lifting, speed, agility and more. Trials were held last month, and finalists will compete this weekend.

The winning team in the Super Bowl receives the "traveling" trophy, meaning it will be passed to next year's winning team. An encased football is theirs to keep.

The TVYFL's goal is to develop young players for future high school teams, with an emphasis on good sportsmanship, character, teamwork and responsibility.

Community members get involved, helping to lighten Kirchner's load. And each year more businesses come on board by sponsoring the event.

Kirchner says, "It's like a big end-of-the-year picnic for the families.

"I keep the schedule light, so parents can sit and relax, and get to know each other. Plus there's a lot to do downtown."

The fairgrounds are a mile and a half south of Mariposa. Vendors there offer food and crafts.

For scheduling details or lodging and dining options, go to www.tvyflsuperbowl.com or www.facebook.com/tvyflsuperbowl.

"I had no idea what this would become," Kirchner said, "but because of the looks on the kids' faces when they get here, that's why we do this."

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@tds.net.

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