FORT WAYNE – Otiga Ogubi chuckles a bit when he says it, just to let you know its a bit of a joke. Or perhaps slightly less than a bit.
ESPN is like our biggest helper right now, coming on with those concussions stories, he says.
Hes the director of football for The Plex/Indoor Sports Enterprises, and hes talking about what everyones talking about these days: The epidemic of head injuries and their long-term effects in the NFL and various other football entities. And how all of that has, rightly or wrongly, converged to make flag football the sudden rage these days.
In the last year its really hit, and obviously the president is involved and all this kind of thing, Ogubi says. So our phone calls and our questions via emails are consistently coming in (asking) if this is a better alternative, if its a safer alternative, what are the odds of getting hurt. So weve definitely hit a spike, especially in the last 15 months.
So it would seem. Ogubi says the Plex league – which merged with a league playing out of Shoaff Park last year – drew in the neighborhood of 500 participants this season, making it, according to Ogubi, the largest single-site league in the Midwest. Playing under the umbrella of NFL Flag Football, four of its teams went to the regional level and two reached the national championships in New Orleans the week of the Super Bowl, where one (boys 9-11) finished third and one (boys 12-14) finished sixth.
The 12-14 team was coached by Kevin Cogar, and, after a season of steady progress, it won the local league and breezed through the regional unbeaten. The 9-11 team, coached by longtime flag football vet Randy Kendig, steamrolled everyone, going undefeated and un-scored upon in the local league and remaining unbeaten until it ran into eventual national champion Red Dome out of Miami.
One (team) was pretty much perfected from Day 1, and one was a work in progress, Ogubi says.
In any case, it was shades of six years ago, when Alois Johnsons robust flag-football operation produced a national champion.
That year we were the biggest league in the U.S., remembers Kendig, who coached that team and has been coaching flag football in Fort Wayne since his now 20-year-old son was 9. What happened after that was a couple of leagues tried to start up and branch off on their own. And then the Plex and Shoaff Park leagues were kind of butting heads.
Enter Ogubi, who, shortly after assuming his job at the Plex, reached out to the director of the Shoaff league.
I said, Hey, lets come together, lets go back to being the dominant league it was back in the day, Ogubi says. Us teaming up and heavily promoting it as a company, it became the largest single-site league.
And one of the most talent-rich – again, like back in the day, when Kendig fielded teams that included current high school basketball standouts Brenton and Bryson Scott, V.J. Beachem, James Blackmon Jr. and Chandler White.
Its amazing, all these basketball kids played flag football, says Kendig, who also coached former Bishop Dwenger star and current Stanford running back Remound Wright.
Ogubi just figures its a game for its time.
More parents are definitely going for this, he says. And theyre seeing the value in what flag football can be. Theres a huge push right now on the high school level with a a 7-on-7 league thats touch football. Thats exploded as well. Its a way for the skill-position players to just sharpen and fine-tune their games without having to put on pads.