BELOIT—Robert Douglas wears a lot of hats these days: McNeel Intermediate School athletic director, Junior Knight tackle football program director and last but not least, Club Fun2Mental NFL Flag Football founder.

First and foremost, though, he’s a Purple Knight at heart.

The former Beloit Memorial and UW-Whitewater wide receiver watches the youthful exuberance of Beloit kids playing flag football and hopes he’s planting seeds for future generations of high school players.

“We are getting the kids out early to learn the game and the fundamental skills,” he said. “Then they will be a little better prepared for tackle football. I took over the tackle program this year because I wanted the kids to learn the same systems that (head coach) Brad (Dement) is using at the high school. When I was coaching varsity I saw a lot of kids who just weren’t ready. They didn’t have the fundamental skills. We want to prepare them better than in the past.

“So this is just a natural progression, learning basic skills at the flag football level and then learning more when you move up to tackle football. Hopefully we’ll change some things at the varsity level. That’s the goal.”

Tuesday night he wore his flag football hat, even stepping in to referee a game held at the Beloit Boys & Girls Club football field.

The program has 85 kids competing in two age divisions: the Novice Knights (kindergarten through second grade) and the Junior Knights (grade three through five). The six-week program has picked up steam thanks to the support of its own booster club and help from the YMCA and some other corporate friends. A generous donation from SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Janesville has been a big help toward acquiring needed equipment. The league now uses electronic scoring and players have received individual drawstring backpacks and water bottles.

“We have received some amazing support this year,” Douglas said.

NFL Flag Football is also one of the biggest supporters, providing the program with coaching practice plans and playbooks. Douglas even attended an NFL Flag Football conference in Las Vegas.

“I got to meet Donald Driver and Matt Leinert and many other NFL players and flag football league organizers,” Douglas said. “The ideas I heard there have provided a major boost for my organization. I was struggling with the non-profit side of this, but in the next four to six months we will have a board of directors and we will continue to work and plan to keep everything running smoothly from here on out.”

A spring flag league will include a sixth through eighth grade division. Douglas said he didn’t want to negatively impact the numbers for the youth tackle program he directs in the fall so the age cutoff was at fifth grade.

While the fall flag program is using the Boys & Girls Club field as a home base, the spring league last year played its games at the old Beloit Catholic football field.

“We need lights in the fall,” he said. “The Boys & Girls Club and (CEO) Mark Rand in particular have been wonderful working with us. I’m also having a discussion with the Snappers about working some concessions there to create some funds for the program and possibly using the stadium for some championship games. There’s also the old Snapper stadium and all the acreage out there. I’m willing to have a discussion about that, too. As we grow we’d love to have a permanent location and you have to have lights wherever we are.”

Douglas says while he’s always willing to listen to advice, he’s not afraid to learn from trial and error. Recently, he’d hoped a team of 10 players selected from the flag football program would represent Beloit in a regional competition sponsored by the NFL.

“The plan was to take a group of kids and we allocated the money to pay for it, but the parents were responsible for getting the kids verified with the birth certificates and not even half completed the assignment,” he said. “So we couldn’t play.”

Lesson learned.

“Luckily the NFL hosts a lot of tournaments and we’ll have other opportunities,” Douglas said. “Next time we will make sure everything gets done and on time.”

He also considered his first season as youth tackle football director a terrific learning experience.

“The season in the Dane County League is wrapping up, but we’re going to continue to meet every Saturday for an hour-and-a-half to work on skills and drills,” he said. “We want them not only to grasp the Beloit varsity systems, but also work on conditioning and strength training. We need to improve on our core strength. We want to develop good habits now so they are used to working hard in the off-season in the weight room.

“We’re not just working on the kids. We want our youth coaches to continue to improve their coaching methods, too. We want to work with the varsity staff so we can teach blocking and tackling skills better. I’m a wide receiver at heart, but I’ve had to watch videos to teach linemen how to block better. Hopefully down the road the varsity coaches can concentrate on other things and not on teaching fundamentals.”

As much as he stresses hard work, Douglas said there’s still plenty of room for fun and games.

“I’m hoping we can develop some sponsors who will help so maybe we can offer some team bonding exercises, too,” he said. “Maybe on a third Saturday we take them bowling or go play laser tag. Sometimes I think we have to go above and beyond as adults to show the kids that they are appreciated. The more we do things like that the more I think kids will want to be a part of something like what we’re offering.”

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