Youth football commissioners from across Northern California attended the USA Football Greater Bay Area Youth Football Leadership Forum on Saturday at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara.
Dennis Neal made his third trip to the 49ers training facility to take part in the discussions. He continues to come back because there is always something new that will benefit the Diablo Valley Youth Football League, where he serves as vice president.
"What I like the most about it is at some point people think they are the only one with a certain problem," said Neal, who helps oversee a league that includes 3,400 players in 18 cities across Napa, Solano, Contra Cost and Alameda counties. "We all learn from talking to each other. We all have the same issues. We are here to help each other."
Nearly 30 representatives of Northern California leagues met at the 49ers facility, illustrating the team's commitment to youth football throughout the Bay Area. They discussed background checks, coaching education, player safety, fundraising and how to become affiliated with USA Football, the official youth football development partner of the NFL and NFL Players Association.
Vic Kunze of the Central Coast Youth Football League, which has 80 teams in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, said the best way for youth football leagues to grow is to share ideas with each other.
Better information among league officers, coaches and parents will develop better leagues.
"The hardest thing for some of my chapters to do is find fields," Kunze said. "Some chapters are relying on high schools but are paying $250 to $300 a day just in maintenance fees. We need to find ways to bring some of these costs down so we can spend the money on the kids.
"Other people have fought this battle before as well. They helped me think of some new ways to approach it."
Neal said the five-hour meeting provided an open forum for discussion. The politics that sometimes surround youth leagues were left at the door, and people were there to help and get help.
"There's a type of kinship because we are all in the same situation," Neal said. "No arguments. No screaming. We could discuss each of these issues for hours."
Neal said it also is important for open dialogue so leagues can come together on tournaments and – one day – a statewide association linking them together. Initial plans are under way for Greater Bay forum members to discuss the possibility of a state association so leagues can work together more than just this one time a year.
"If we can get consistent across the leagues and agree on ages, weights, rules, we can look at a state championship-type of tournament," Neal said. "Everyone seems interested in getting that done."
"The state forum is a great opportunity to hear the concerns as well as successes of Northern Californian youth football leagues," 49ers Youth Football Coordinator Jared Muela said. "Opening up conversations between these different organizations is integral in improving the overall youth football experience for the thousands of boys and girls. We are extremely happy to continue to be a part of that."