By Ginger DeShaney
The football action was fast and fierce. The cheering was thunderous. The girls and boys were having a blast on the field and parents couldn’t contain their enthusiasm on the sidelines.
The electric atmosphere of Friday Night Lights has come to South Boston, thanks to Allison Baker and her hard-working team.
Friday Night Lights, the brand-new Kickoff For Kids Youth Flag Football League, has 230 boys and girls ages 6-13 on 16 teams. There’s a girls’ division (ages 7-13), peewee boys (6-8), and junior boys (9-13).
“It’s fun to watch,” said dad and peewee coach David Byrne. “It’s a community feel with the parents. It really brings everyone together and strengthens the community.”
While Allison was out and about Saturday after opening night, she said a lot of parents came up to her and told her how awesome Friday Night Lights is.
Allison is the founder of Kickoff for Kids, which hosts an all-female flag football fundraising tournament every year. She would bring kids from the Perkins School and the Boys & Girls Club to watch the tournament and they told her it would be cool if there was something like that for them. So, she’s been thinking about it for a while and after getting commitments from her board and others in the community, she went for it.
“Just from talking to parents, and even if I picture myself as a kid, I know that I would be looking forward to Friday night. All your friends are there,” Allison said. “I have a lot of people say to me, ‘This reminds me of the old Southie, of being a kid in Southie again.’ People say there are no kids in Southie; they need to come down.”
Allison’s nonprofit organization prides itself on inclusivity. There are kids from all over South Boston, including the housing authorities, where Allison used her connections to make sure families knew about the new league.
“Our goal is to pay it forward and make sure everyone’s included,” said Allison, who is also the commissioner of the girls’ Gatey CYO program.
Allison made sure her league didn’t interfere with other Southie activities. “A lot of people were like, ‘We don’t do anything on Friday nights. This is perfect.’ ”
Flag football is “kind of like a beginner sport for a lot of kids,” Allison said, which could have contributed to the huge success with the number of signups.
There were so many girls that Allison was able to create a girls’ division. Many of the girls had never played football, but you wouldn’t know it from watching them.
“It’s my first time playing,” said Maddix Coughlin, whose mom coaches her team. “It’s fun. A lot of my friends are playing, too.”
Lia Bianchi and Jessica McCollom have kids playing in the league. “The kids are so excited, especially the girls; they don’t get to play football,” said Jessica.
In watching a practice, Lia said she was impressed with the girls and how they played.
Added Jessica, “They feel comfortable and they’re encouraged.”
“[Allison] is phenomenal,” said Lia. “She is a pillar in this community. I’m glad my kids know her.”
David’s two daughters and son know Allison, too, and wanted to get involved. “Allison is unbelievable. She’s great for the community; she’s a great role model. She’s just outstanding.”
But Allison is quick to deflect the credit: “It’s not just me; I don’t do it all by myself.”
She gave big shout-outs to Victor Baldassari, Ashley and Jason Coughlin, Jacqueline Beggan, Al Mallon, Lily Joyce, and Lisa Maki for helping get the league off the ground; all the coaches – there are 25 coaches for 16 teams (every girls’ team coach is a participant in her tournament); her board members, who are all very involved; and the referees, who go above and beyond all the time.
Then there’s DCR’s Bobby Ferrara, who is always there to support Allison and her organization.
Allison is also grateful for the Southie 3v3, which raised funds for Kickoff For Kids, and, of course, her sponsors: Amazon, Representative David Biele, City Council President Ed Flynn, Gatey CYO, Cronin Group, Massport, Boston Real Estate Capital, and Newmarket Capital.
The league will continue to grow. Allison is already planning for a spring session!