GREENFIELD — It’s not often, practically ever, that fans will see a New Palestine High School football coach dressed in Greenfield- Central school colors coaching kids.
Anyone who knows longtime football coach Dan Walker can’t help but picture him draped in Dragons red. However, this football season he’s putting on gold and blue on a regular basis.
In addition to coaching at New Palestine, Walker is leading a team of flag football youngsters in the Greenfield Youth Football League.
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Walker is the head coach of the Colts in the GYFL, which offers flag football to pint-sized players in kindergarten through Grade 2.
It’s a program that isn’t offered in New Palestine where Walker resides. It’s why when his son, Evan, 5, started kindergarten, the family jumped ship and went to Greenfield to play flag football.
And they’re not alone.
The biggest Dragon of all, football coach Kyle Ralph has done the same. His son, Kaeden Ralph, 5, and several other young New Palestine kids are on the team Walker coaches.
“I know, the Greenfield colors, coach (Kyle) Ralph gave me all kinds of grief and was all over me when he first saw me wearing Greenfield colors,” Walker said with a smile.
“He looks terrible in those colors,” Ralph said with a laugh. “I had never seen him wear anything but Doe Creek red and blue and our New Pal red and white, and in that first game he came up in that gold shirt, and I honest to God didn’t know who he was.”
All joking aside, Walker said working with the GYFL, teaching the young kids the game he loves has been great, and Ralph agrees.
“It’s great getting the kids out here doing something active, participating in something and being a part of a team,” Ralph said. “My son does a bunch of different sports, and this is just a chance for him to go out and have a good time … This is all about the kids having fun.”
Walker said if it wasn’t for the flag football program in the GYFL, area youth would have to start playing tackle football when they turned 5 against kids as old as 7.
“The worst thing that could happen is they go out on the field and then get smoked by a second-grader, and they may never want to play again,” Walker said.
While the New Palestine Youth Football League does not offer flag football for young kids, they do allow them to play tackle when they are just 5. That’s a bit young for some parents like Walker who want their kids to be introduced to football slowly.
“I was taking with coach (Kyle) Ralph, and he and I were both thinking we might let our kids just sit out until second grade. But I got to thinking it would be good to start the educational process, so I decided to coach a team over here.”
The GYFL flag football commissioner Dan Brown said they currently have eight flag football teams, that play 60-minute games with teams comprised of kids from Greenfield, New Palestine, Eastern Hancock, Fortville and Knightstown.
“The little kids, they don’t notice if you’re a Cougar or a Dragon; they’re just all having a good time,” Brown said.
The coaches joked and said they don’t teach about the good old rivalry between the Dragons and Cougars until at least second grade.
“We’re just trying to coach the fundamentals of it,” Brown said.
Walker said the Greenfield coaches and officials have been nothing but helpful and friendly, despite their allegiances at the high school level.
“They’ve been really welcoming to me being a New Pal guy,” Walker said. “We didn’t have enough New Palestine kids to field our own team, so we have a lot of great kids from Greenfield on our squad.”
Walker said all the coaches in the league have the same goals. They’re playing football with the safety of the younger kids as the No. 1 priority while teaching the game they’ve come to love.
“It’s a successful year if all of the 16 boys on our team want to come back and play next year,” Walker said.