By Matt Mauney | Associate Editor
TAMPA, Fla. - The next crop of national high school, college and maybe even NFL stars are lacing up their cleats and strapping on their shoulder pads this week, at Otis M. Andrews Sports Complex.
The Plant City complex is hosting the United Youth Football League National Championships, which features 110 youth football teams from 22 states. Players, ranging from ages 6 to 16, came to Plant City for the second consecutive year through a partnership with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and the Plant City Recreation and Parks Department.
The tournament began Dec. 2 and will conclude Saturday with the final championship games. A national cheerleading competition featuring 110 cheer squads also will be held in Hillsborough County Dec. 8, at the University of South Florida Sun Dome in Tampa.
A total of 140 teams registered for the UYFL tournament, with 110 actually making the trip down to Plant City. That total eclipses last year’s tournament, which drew 99 teams.
The large field consisted of teams from Chicago, New York, Charlotte, Detroit and more. In that field, some of the best young football players competed on the Otis Andrews multipurpose fields, which were converted into six regulation football fields.
Several local team also got into the action, with the benefit of competing against some of the best teams in the nation without having to travel far to do it.
Local teams included two Plant City Dolphins teams — Mitey-Mites and Junior Midgets — two Plant City Eagles teams (Beesville) — Cadets and 15U — and the 10U Plant City Raiders, who will be playing for the championship Friday.
Ron Maxwell, the president of the UYFL, said many of the programs that are currently involved with the organization used to be involved with similar organizations, such as Pop Warner, and that those organizations also have their national tournaments in Florida because of the state’s weather.
“We decided, rather than competing with those tournaments, let’s go to the other coast and hold ours there, so we contacted the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, and they’ve been great in setting us up here for the past two years,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell noted that Plant City had the ideal location — close to Tampa and still not too far away from the Orlando attractions.
“It’s right off the highway and is just a perfect location,” he said.
Jack Holland, director of the Plant City Recreation and Parks Department, said being able to provide the facilities for the UYFL national championship is a boon for Plant City and adds a boost to the local economy.
“With the teams staying in hotels and going to the store and buying Gatorade or water and, of course, fuel, or going out to eat, it’s a huge impact to our community to help our local businesses,” Holland said.
Maxwell said that he has been pleased with Otis M. Andrews Park.
“It was basically a soccer complex that we turned into a football complex with the help of Plant City, who have been tremendous in helping us make this happen,” he said.
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