Partee, whose father, Dennis Partee, was a punter and kicker in the N.F.L. from 1968 to 1975, defended the decision to drop tackle football. He said that Clint Harper, the football coach at Marshall High School, who pushed to end the seventh-grade tackle program in 2014, told him that many youngsters were not taught the right way to tackle and were susceptible to injury.
“We’re not on a crusade — we’re on the side of safety,” said Partee, whose soccer and flag football teams have grown considerably. “The contact stuff is just outside our youth development strategy.”
Partee said that some parents felt as if the club had “jumped the gun” by ending its tackle program but that he was not anti-football. He sold the club’s football equipment to the Lions, and he said that Andrus had helped children and was “filling a need.”
The devotion of the coaches was obvious on a Saturday in late October when the Lions traveled about an hour to Henderson to play their last regular-season games. Andrus and the other coaches were on the field from the first game, which involved 5- and 6-year-olds playing flag football, to the fourth game, a matchup of 11- and 12-year-olds — spending about seven hours in the hot sun.
The coaches were stern, urging the players not to back down and to hit anyone who hit them. In the second game, for 7- and 8-year-olds, the team from Henderson built a 30-0 lead by halftime. One Lion cried after his wrist was stepped on. Another boy nicknamed Bran Bran walked off the field with his head down after Henderson scored a touchdown.
“Everyone hold your head up and dry your tears,” Bob Boyd, one of the few white coaches, yelled. “They did exactly what they wanted to do. They intimidated you.”
Linda Morris, whose grandson, Cordiay Wilbert, was on the team and who helped the Lions on the sidelines, came next.
“When they hit you, you hit ’em back,” she said. “Be tough. This is the game of football.”
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