When former University of Florida linebacker Cornell "Brick" Tinner began coaching his sons in youth football, the Florida panhandle was sprinkled with small, unrelated leagues in each town.
Thanks to the efforts of Tinner, though, the Panhandle Youth Football League has unified the youth football programs from six different areas — Destin, South Walton, DeFuniak, Niceville, Panama City Beach and Shalimar — into one league.
"When I came into the picture, we made it a competition. Before that, everyone said, 'It's all about fun.' But those kids know what the score is," Tinner told The Log.
After uniting the separate cities into one league, which boasts between six and 11 teams per age group, Tinner introduced a playoff and championship system to help promote the competitive spirit in the PYFL. The main focus is still fun, though.
"When you play youth football, you're not striving for a scholarship or to go to the NFL. You're striving to have fun," Tinner said.
While serving as president, Tinner also heads the Niceville division of the league. More than 400 kids play for Niceville's 13 teams on a yearly basis, making it the league's largest group. The teams are divided into age groups: Mighty Mites/Boomers (5-6 years old), Pee Wee (7-8), Juniors (9-10) and Seniors (11-12).
Tinner works full-time as the sales and operations team leader at Legendary Marine in Destin. During football season, he said PYFL becomes a second full-time job, as he and the other board members spend nearly 40 hours per week on football business. After 18 years, Tinner said he keeps returning year-after-year partially because he doesn't fully trust anyone else to run the league to his standards. There is more to it than that, though.
"Even if I was voted out, I would still do it. I love every bit of it," Tinner said.
PYFL goes beyond just a game, Tinner said. That's why they call them "events."
"We do a great job of unifying towns. Like Destin, where there are doctors and lawyers, and DeFuniak, which is more blue-collar. When they play each other, we put aside differences and play football," Tinner said.
Another perk to the job is seeing the boys who play in the PYFL grow up to be men. Several former PYFL players now work at Legendary Marine with Tinner. One in particular, Chas Matthews, helped Valdosta State win the NCAA Div. II national championship in 2012.
"(PYFL) opened so many doors for me," Matthews told The Log. "You never know what you're going to learn playing football, but it's always positive."
Legendary Marine sponsored last year's Boom Boom Bowl, a football-packed day that marks the end of the season for the Boomers age class. More than 1,200 people attended the event last year, Tinner said.
The average yearly cost for kids to play in the league is $85. With equipment and referee costs, player dues alone can't cover the cost of operating the league. Tinner said PYFL isn't looking for handouts, though. He wants to see people in the stands to support the kids, because attendance and concessions revenues help keep the league going.
To see the PYFL 2013 game schedule and learn more about the league, visit the website at thepyfa.com.