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Clock Running Out on Flag Football Organization at La Colina Jr. High

Santa Barbara Unified School District halts Friday Night Lights games because of neighborhood concerns, lack of field space

More than 300 boys and girls have signed up for flag football this spring, but may not be able to play if the Friday Night Lights youth organization doesn’t find a new field. Click to view larger
More than 300 boys and girls have signed up for flag football this spring, but may not be able to play if the Friday Night Lights youth organization doesn’t find a new field. (Friday Night Lights)

The nonprofit organization Friday Night Lights will need a Hail Mary to win this game.

More than 300 boys and girls are set to lose their Friday Night Lights spring flag football season if the nonprofit organization doesn’t find a new field to play on with the next few weeks.

The Santa Barbara Unified School District has administratively decided to halt games at La Colina Junior High, the home of the organization since it began in the fall of 2016.

The league holds games from about 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday nights, and has quickly emerged as one of the most popular youth sports activities on the South Coast.

With the rise in concussion awareness surrounding contact football, FNL has arisen as a viable alternative for young people who want to learn the game prior to high school.

“Over the past three seasons, FNL has become an integral part of our family's athletic experience,” said Steve Finkel, who has three sons who have played in the league. “The league offered a unique balance of competitiveness and safety in a game kids love to play and adults love to watch.

"It would be a meaningful loss to many families in Santa Barbara if FNL is unable to continue.”

Boys and girls from 38 elementary and middle schools in the Santa Barbara area already signed up to play in the spring. The School District told Noozhawk that it is trying to find an alternative site for FNL, but as of now, there’s nothing.

“After closely assessing the demands on the athletic field at La Colina Junior High School, and the residential neighborhood surrounding the school, the district determined that it could no longer support games on that field,” said Lauren Bianchi Klemann, spokeswoman for the district.

“In order to properly maintain La Colina Junior High School's athletic field for use by the community within the context of the surrounding neighborhood, we could no longer support Friday Night Lights' current capacity needs at La Colina Junior High School. We are actively working to find a better accommodation and/or potential alternative options that could work for their spring season.”

Bianchi Klemann also said that the district is experiencing a temporary shortage of field space due to the construction of Santa Barbara High School's new Peabody Stadium.

That too, she said, resulted in greater use of facilities at La Colina Junior High School and Santa Barbara Junior High School. Two club soccer leagues were also told they could practice, but not play games at the school.

Ted and Nevin Pallad brought the sport to Santa Barbara in 2016. Ted’s brother-in-law launched the organization in Orange County a decade ago, and Ted and Nevin franchised it in Santa Barbara.

Ted Pallad says he has reached out to every organization in town, from Elings and Girsh parks to the city of Santa Barbara, UCSB, SBCC, Westmont and all the local high schools. He said he was told there was no space for the league.

“With no field permit to play, Friday Night Lights will be forced to cancel their spring league,” said Ted Pallad. “We are still in denial of their decision. They at first told us that the 'grass needed to rest,' and then a few weeks later, sent out a letter stating that the kids were making too much noise on the field playing flag football.”

The organization needs a field from 4 to 8 or 3 to 7 pm. It holds two seasons a year, in the spring and the fall.

Pallad said his organization pays the district $5,000 a season to use the fields. He believes the district should let it play its games this spring, which will give him and his wife time to find a new field for fall and beyond.

He said he has already offered refunds to the 300-plus families who are signed up and only three have taken him up on the offer so far. He doesn’t understand why the district and he can’t just come together and work out a deal.

“People are supposed to come together and find a solution,” Pallad said.

Pallad said it’s apparent that the officials at Santa Barbara Unified School District have never been to the field on Friday nights to witness what FNL brings to the community.

“What makes FNL special,” Pallad said “is that we are all about wanting these kids to have fun. That’s important since statistics show the No. 1 reason kids stop participating in youth sports is because they are no longer having fun.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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