Fort Belvoir took the U.S. Army recruiting slogan "Be All You Can Be" to a new level this past weekend by offering its secure facilities to the Fairfax County Youth Football League so that its season could continue — sniper or no sniper.
Col. T.W. Williams, Fort Belvoir garrison commander, and his staff put actions where many other have put only words in forging a joint military/community endeavor to prove that with ingenuity and determination, life can go on in the face of tragedy and apprehension. And they proved it 111 times between Saturday morning and Sunday night.
That was the number of football games played on the converted parade field and on the base's Pullen Field over the two-day span involving thousands of children and an untold number of spectators. It was estimated that nearly 1,000 people were rotated in and out of the base every hour and 15 minutes.
"We asked how we could help. Our folks talked with the league representatives, and we felt this was a good solution and one we could make work. It's also a good example of the post and the community working together," Williams said.
"As for long-range commitments, we haven't done anything definitive. We're taking it one week at a time. We have two weeks left in the regular season, and then there are two rounds of playoffs. But the post is very anxious to work with the community and our needs," said Mark Meana, chairman, Fairfax County Youth Football League. This was confirmed by Donald N. Carr, director, Belvoir Public Affairs.
"This is not about football. This is about the kids. The key thing here is that the children have a safe and secure place to play," said Jim Gibson, a league commissioner for the Alexandria Titans."This crisis has enabled us to see what resourcefulness really is."
THE LEAGUE IS RUN through the recreation departments in Alexandria City and Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties. It is composed of 250 teams with 6,000 players. It has its own board of directors governed by its own bylaws, according to Chris Condetti, Belvoir's sports director.
"Our kids have been penned up for several weeks. But we have gotten great support from the parents and coaches. This is a real boost for everybody," Mac Slover, Alexandria Youth Sports supervisor, exclaimed. This should have been the sixth game of the season for each team, but no games were held the previous weekend due to the sniper threat.
Each game lasted one hour and 15 minutes, with eight games going on simultaneously from 8:30 a.m. until late in the evening Saturday. On Sunday they began at 9 a.m. and finished at approximately 7:45 p.m. Five fields were lined off on the base parade area and three at Pullen Field.
"We had to modify the rules somewhat in order to get it all done, but it was worth it," Condetti explained. Those modifications included no goal posts and only a two-minute break between each quarter, including halftime.
"Just like in the old days. The only way to score is to run it in or pass it in. No field goals and no extra points," he said, in an almost envious way.
"When all the games were canceled last weekend, that's when Col. Williams said to tell them (the league) we are willing to offer our sites. We also have kids in this league," Condetti said. That would be the Fort Belvoir Bulldogs.
PLANNING BEGAN EARLY in the week between league representatives and Fort Belvoir personnel. It was not just a matter of lining fields. It was also a matter of working out myriad security arrangements to enable fans and teams to enter and leave with minimal inconvenience.
In order to accomplish this, a special code was devised to expedite the crush of traffic. Military Police at both the Main Gate and Tulley Gate, specifically opened on the weekend for this event, were informed of the code, which allowed them to process fans and vehicles expeditiously. Those not utilizing the code were required to go through regular security procedures.
"We had a special meeting on Wednesday to let all the commissioners know exactly what was being planned. This included the security arrangements and rule modifications," Ray Brown, Bucknell commissioner, explained. "If one commissioner had not agreed, the whole deal would have been canceled."
The league is composed of players divided by age and weight classification. Starting with what the coaches referred to as "ankle-biters," 7-year-olds who cannot weigh less than 40 pounds or more than 72 pounds, up to 16-year-olds and a top weight of 150 pounds.
"The league is based on age and weight. The only one in a gray area are the 9-year-olds, who can exceed the 72-pound limit for ankle-biters," said Meana. "But once they reach 10 years old, they have to comply with the weight classes in their age bracket." Weight divisions are 75, 85, 95, 110 and 150 pounds.
"We have kids from every background, race, creed and economic level," Gibson insisted. "The program reflects the population of the schools."
IN ADDITION TO everything else, there was the matter of feeding the throng of spectators. What's football without hot dogs and sodas?
Fort Belvoir came through on this, as well. It supplied the food, and the concessions were staffed by volunteers. All the profits went to the Fort Belvoir Youth Sports Program, according to Condetti.
As darkness spread over the area Sunday night, the final game in the weekend marathon got under way on Pullen I. It pitted the Annandale Bulldogs against the Vienna Raiders.
But, as Gibson had said, "This is not about football. It's about the kids."