Schools keep up gridiron support
Sadly, it is almost a year since the closure of the Scottish Claymores, Scotland's only professional American football team. However, there is no sign of the grass roots of the sport being killed off.
The Inverness Blitz American Football Academy was set up six years ago and Dave Paulin, the founder and head coach, has regularly devoted 30 hours a week to nurturing the game in the Highlands, with impressive results.
Bught Park in Inverness, the venue for the Inverness Highland Games, now has gridiron markings for one of the few American football pitches in Scotland.
By concentrating on schools, Mr Paulin has established a network of non-contact flag football teams and the Inverness Blitz has kitted teams at junior (aged 14-16) and youth (aged 16-19) levels. There are plans for a senior adult team but that is some way down the line, although Mr Paulin, who is a post office counter worker in Inverness, would like to see one set up by next spring.
Over the past six years, he has started up development programmes in eight secondary schools in the area (at Charleston Academy, Glenurquhart High, Culloden Academy, Dingwall Academy, Fortrose Academy, Millburn Academy, Inverness Royal Academy and Lossiemouth High) and even introduced strength and conditioning classes with American football in mind. His son, Robbie, who has a qualification with the British Amateur Weightlifters'
Association, helps with training.
"We usually start the children from 13- to 14-years-old upwards, but they are not lifting heavy weights at that age. There is more technique involved," explains Mr Paulin senior.
"The children then treat their American football more seriously. From the strength and conditioning work, you can see it go from kids playing a game to athletes participating in a sport."
Mr Paulin started a flag football team in June 1999. After its first year, Inverness Blitz won a National Lottery grant for pound;4,260 to buy kit.
The club now boasts six flag football teams (two each at cadet, junior and youth levels) as well as the two kitted teams.
Running the club costs about pound;20,000 a year, but it now has its own equipment - much of it shipped from the United States, including a blocking sled sent over in 2001 - and there are plans to build a clubhouse.
There have been a few obstacles to overcome, not least of which is travelling, with the nearest opposition in the central belt. "Travelling is the big expense. We can have teams down at Grangemouth Broncos on a Saturday, which costs us pound;350 for a bus, and then on the Sunday have to pay another pound;350 to take us to Wishaw to face Clyde Valley Falcons," Mr Paulin explains.
The club has set up links with Freeport Falcons, a youth team in Maine, and Mr Paulin hopes one day to take a team to the States.
"We've found the children are really enthusiastic. Not only are they playing, but they watch the National Football League on TV and keep me up to date.
"Our strength is at junior level and it is a good age for seeing players develop.
"You always find that when you are in the youth age group - 16 to 19 - a lot of the players move away to go to college or university or get jobs."
One way Inverness Blitz has succeeded in attracting young players is through its leaders' award course for coaches and teachers. It challenges the participants to form a team within eight weeks, after which there is a festival of the game.
In 2003, Mr Paulin won the BBC Scotland unsung hero in sport award and attended the Sports Personality of the Year award ceremony in London as one of the finalists. His son was nominated for a Whitbread young achievers'
At the end of next month, the club will hold its annual awards night at Culloden Academy, with more than 300 expected to attend.