Are you ready for some football?

Posted on 18 Jun 2009 at 6:01pm
By Rich Lopez Staff Writer

The Texas Bulls flag football team balances a heavy play schedule with recruiting new players


THE NEED FOR SPEED: Di’Mera Atkinson prepares to sprint down the field during coach Jere Becker’s, right, practice drills; John Miller, left, recovers the ball from his run.

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon in a lazy Pleasantville: The sky is blue; the wind blows gently and birds chirp over a well-manicured practice field at the Las Colinas Ranchview High School. But then that quiet comes to a halt.

"Set! Hut!"

Jere Becker yells out into the peaceful day as a small number of gents have come to practice flag football. The heat is bearable from the sidelines but brutal for the two hours of running drills on the field as members of the Dallas-based Texas Bulls and Tyler Bobcats practice for an upcoming tournament in Austin.

The lone six men on the field, though, embody the main issue Becker has confronted with starting his flag team.

"Our biggest need is players," Becker says over appetizers and cold drinks after practice. And just like that, the table becomes a brainstorming session of how to recruit new players.

Becker and the four men from Tyler share the same issue, sparking an interest in the community for flag football. Becker is hoping next month’s recruiting efforts will tip the scales in their favor for a more complete team. But he says the perception of the sport is a big obstacle.

"Skill level doesn’t matter — just come out and play. We’ll find a place for you on the team," he says.

The Texas Bulls have been playing since 2005. Four years out, they still struggle for players in a way other sports associations don’t — the Dallas Independent Volleyball Association, for instance, has more than 300 members.

Former Bull player John Miller is optimistic about players both for his Tyler team and Dallas. "Just this year there has been more and more involvement," he says.

Becker thinks prospective players assume they need to have been jocks in a former life, or big and beefy now, to take on another team. His six loyal players prove otherwise. Some of the guys miss throws; tall ones take on small in drills; and varied running speeds prove these maybe no Emmitt Smiths.

But they are committed to coming out on a 98-degree day in Texas summer — proof enough these guys are here for the fun of it.

In the cool air of the restaurant, Becker speaks about the Bulls with that same glint of sports enthusiasm a dad has when talking about his son’s Peewee League. Becker juggles information about other sports leagues’ schedules between his brain and his cell phone to determine that a particular Saturday in July will be ideal for his event. Clearly, he is the get-’er-done guy.

Or perhaps he is just motivated by the upcoming flag football schedule for the gay leagues.

The boys have a busy schedule. This week’s tournament and next month’s clinic are around the corner. On the horizon looms a July scrimmage in San Antonio and here on Pride weekend in September. And there is Gay Bowl 9 in Washington D.C. in October —the Super Bowl of the National Gay Flag Football League. And these guys plan to be there.

If recruitment efforts are successful, they still need time to get to know each other, practice drills and plays and ultimately meld into a team. But first, they need to get this scrimmage done and over with.

Miller is looking forward to it but sees Houston as chief competition. "They are more organized than us because they have been playing for so long," he says.

Teams from San Antonio and Austin will also attend, and Becker hopes his Lone Star Flag Football Conference will relieve organizing issues. The conference would be a network of Texas teams and their needs. "Currently there are five teams and approximately 60 players in all of Texas," he says.

While he’s not coaching or planning the schedule or recruiting, Becker still needs to find time to raise funds for the team. "

We are looking for sponsors," he says, switching to P.R. mode.

Members pay their own way but Becker also reveals plans for a beefcake calendar of players to help spark interest in the league and perhaps a new slew of players will help with their model search.

And then Miller has an a-ha moment.

"What if our team came into town and both teams go out on a Saturday night to Oak Lawn with our shirts and hang out in the clubs and pass out information?" he says. "That can be our recruitment effort."

The idea goes over well. Miller figures if people see the players in person and can talk to them in a casual setting, it would be easier to talk up the league. It not only sounds easier, it would relieve some of the stress of their already busy schedule. Becker is pondering the idea.

Perhaps one way to bring in new players is to show off Miller himself. He came to football knowing nothing about the sport but to also finish losing weight. Since playing football, in addition to his diet plan, he has lost 130 pounds.

He shows his driver’s license to prove it and sure enough, the before and after are amazing.

"There is so much good cardio that goes with playing," he says.

Miller even tries to recruit this writer into playing. If that is the case, then clearly there is a need.

The Texas Bulls play at Travis High School, 1211 E. Oltorf St., Austin, June 20 at 10 a.m. For more information, visit TexasBullsFFC.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2009.

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