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Your Turn: Youth Super Bowl a tradition in Franklin

This is the fifth year that my family has hosted a Youth Super Bowl at our Franklin home during Super Bowl Sunday.

Football has been a passion of mine throughout my life, going back to 1989 when I was a young boy and my parents allowed me to host my first Super Bowl party. At that time, my father, Marty Walsh, helped me build a replica football goal post from PVC pipe in our backyard and purchased enough cans of spray paint to allow me to try to replicate what the actual Super Bowl end zones would look like.

My friends at the time used to call these gatherings Walsh League and we would even award an annual trophy, similar to the Lombardi Trophy. Five years ago, when my own boys became old enough and began to take an interest in football, I told them some of the stories of my youth, and thus the tradition began with them.

Although our first gathering for Super Bowl LI was a fairly simple affair consisting of a touch football game amongst 10 or so first- to third-grade friends of my sons, each year we have tried to develop the event a bit more to resemble an actual Super Bowl experience.

While I paint a replica version of the actual Super Bowl field each year and serve as the head official (and de facto commissioner), a main reason that we have been able to shape this event into what it has become is due to the willingness of the other parents to take part and contribute, whether it be the designing of game shirts (by Sarah Thielbar), providing of equipment (Dr. Larry Fenn and Greg Keith at Franklin Elementary School), public address announcer (Matt Hawkins) or quick turnaround of a music video (Scott Dorsey).

In fact, in many cases, the genesis for new ideas, such as a fly-over, have come from past participating parents and kids; and it seems that whatever new or seemingly far-fetched idea that we think up,

I am able to find a generous person who is more than happy to try to make it happen (such as the staff at Learn2FlyCT for the fly-over or Recognition Products in Lebanon for the custom-made trophy).

This is a tradition which we hope to continue for many years. We figure that if we can’t take all of these kids to the Super Bowl, we can try to bring the Super Bowl to them.

Having been covered in past years by local media, including Fox 61 and The Norwich Bulletin, the event needed to be scaled back a bit this year in light of the current pandemic. However, given the storm which dumped over 6 inches of snow throughout the duration of this year’s game, it did not seem all that abnormal to see everyone bundled up and their faces covered by masks.

Although it became quickly covered once the game began, the young players were once again playing on a replica Super Bowl field which replicated the painted end zones and Super Bowl logos. The only notable difference was that instead of the NFL logo at midfield, this field had painted a WFL logo.

While a scheduled fly-over by Learn2FlyCT unfortunately, could not be performed due to the low visibility, this year’s game did still provide some of the pageantry of the real Big Game. This included the players running through fountains of fireworks as they were introduced along with three parents who are local healthcare workers holding the American flag and being recognized during the playing of the National Anthem.

One of the new special touches for this year was each of the kids having customized Super Bowl shirts of their choice, representing either the Chiefs or Buccaneers. The shirts included the colors and logo of the team they chose, along with this year’s Super Bowl and WFL logos, in addition to having their name and number on the back.

While the focus of the event is on creating a safe, educational and memorable football event for the children, nearly all of the parents and several members of the local community contribute in one way or another to making this event so special.

Once again, Ren Vigue of Recognition Products in Lebanon, who assisted in the original creation of the WFL logo and MVP trophy, provided the engraving of the name for this year’s game MVP, Brayden Walsh.

A variety of parents filled the other roles including: three game officials, three chain crew members, scoreboard operator, fireworks specialist and coaches.

While this year’s circumstances prevented any type of indoor or group gathering afterwards to watch the actual Super Bowl, it seems that the enjoyable time that this group of youngsters had competing with their friends in the snow, provided a more compelling and memorable game for those involved than the actual Super Bowl down in Tampa.

Matthew Walsh lives in Franklin.

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