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Published: Tuesday, 2/24/2009

Flag-football league keeps 35-and-over players active

Dan Nowak, left, gets a pass off during a game at Sylvania Sport and Exhibition Center. Dan Nowak, left, gets a pass off during a game at Sylvania Sport and Exhibition Center.
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Twenty years after his college career ended, former University of Toledo quarterback Steve Keene plays football again on Friday nights albeit on a smaller-than-regulation field and without a helmet or pads.

The self-professed mediocre quarterback says he signed up for the 35-and-over flag-football league that plays in the field house at the Sylvania Sport and Exhibition Center because it helps him stay limber and gives him a chance to throw the football again.

It keeps us young, Mr. Keene said on a recent night after the team he quarterbacks, Old But Slow, defeated Advanced Control Solutions Inc. You don t want to get over the hill when you ve got young kids you want to stay athletic.

And even at age 42, he s still got some zip on the ball enough to throw it accurately down most of the 51-yard field, and enough to jam his wife Mindy s fingers when they play catch at home. Old But Slow won the league playoffs during the fall half of its season, and as of last week was well on its way to a high seed in the spring-session playoffs, which is slated to start Friday night.

Dan Nowak, right, tries to pull the flag off an opponent during the football game at the center. Dan Nowak, right, tries to pull the flag off an opponent during the football game at the center.
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The 35-and-over league which has seven teams in this, its inaugural season is the brainchild of Dan Nowak, who entered a team of 30-somethings last winter in an open flag-football league only to discover that they really couldn t keep up with the much younger players who dominated the rest of that league s teams.

None of us knew what we were getting into, Mr. Nowak recalled. We got creamed eight games in a row. But we still had so much fun that we signed up again. We even pulled out a win during the second session. I guess I underestimated the whole age thing.

Of course, to get a league of his own, Mr. Nowak not only had to keep his team, Old School, together, he also had to recruit captains for other teams who would be willing to then do some recruiting of their own.

Last spring and summer, I talked it up to everybody I could find. I ended up finding a few guys who could find a few guys, he said.

Many of the initial contacts were with parents of his children s schoolmates or fellow parishioners at St. Joseph s Church, like Jim McGuire, who discovered he d been made a team captain after merely hinting he might be interested in playing.

I didn t want to do it originally I was afraid of getting hurt. But we re having a ball, Mr. McGuire said. Everybody s very aggressive, but at 35-plus, it s contained aggression.

Mr. Keene was farther out on the recruiting grapevine: his point of contact was through his daughter, who plays on the same youth soccer team as Mr. McGuire s daughter.

While most of the players are from the Sylvania area, a few of them drive in from other Toledo suburbs to play, usually having heard of the league from friends or co-workers.

It s a good time, said Chad Edison, of Bedford Township, who joined the ACSI team after learning about it from a friend who works for its sponsoring company.

It s 35-and-over, so you re not running around with a bunch of 21-year-old kids.

It s a good opportunity to get out and get some exercise, agreed John Szul, of Rossford, who was a college buddy of Mr. Keene.

The games consist of two 22-minute halves, with a clock that stops only when a team exercises one of its two time-outs per half. Seven players line up on each side, and linemen are ineligible for hand-offs but may catch passes. The field is divided into three 17-yard sections; crossing a section line constitutes a first down.

While flag football is designed to minimize the sport s physical violence pulling one of two flags from a ball-carrier s belt constitutes a tackle some contact is inevitable, especially at the receiving end of passes.

It s a pretty competitive league, Mr. Szul said. There are quite a few athletes here.

Indeed, besides Mr. Keene, there are numerous others who played varsity sports in college, including several former University of Toledo swimmers, some baseball players, and Todd Clear, who once was a tight end on Kent State University s football team.

A lot of us didn t know what to expect, but it s been fun, so we ve stayed at it, Mr. Clear said.

Even for 35-plus, it has been a little more hard-nosed than I expected it to be. There have been a few injuries a blown ACL [knee injury], a blown Achilles [tendon], said Mr. Nowak, himself recovering from a partially torn groin tendon. We re playing like we re 19, but we re not.

The most common injury, though, appears to be rug burns from artificial turf, perhaps in part because the rule forbidding diving leaps, with or without the ball, seems to be taken by many as more like a suggestion.

Players in these supposedly friendly games also are not above asking the referees to pay special attention to their opponents rule violations, especially pertaining to blocking technique.

There s a heck of a lot of really good athletes here, said Steve Sutter, a South Toledoan who with his son, Matt, officiates the league s games.

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