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20 seasons and still going

Current players in the Andalusia youth football league no doubt experienced one of the 20-year-old program’s highlights Saturday when three freshman players from the University of Alabama attended the organization’s annual football camp.

Nico Johnson, D.J. Fluker and Trent Richardson spoke to the campers Saturday morning, and took time to sign autographs. All three will play for Coach Nick Saban at the Capstone this year.

Johnson, a linebacker, is a native Andalusian. Fluker, a 6-foot-7, 350-pound offensive tackle, is from Foley, while Richardson (5-foot-11, 210 lbs.) is a running back from Pensacola.

Both the local league and the number of teams with which they play are growing, Andalusia youth football league board member Ron Graham said.

The Andalusia youth football league is an independent league that has long been a part of a tri-county league consisting of teams from Crestview, Fla., Baker, Fla., East Brewton (W.S. Neal), Opp and Straughn. This year, Butler and Conecuh counties also are included. The league will grow from six teams to nine, adding Georgiana, Greenville and Evergreen to the teams’ list.

Graham said Andalusia’s league was in danger of being dissolved at one point.

“The city used to have the league,” Graham said. “They said they didn’t want to run the league anymore, so there was a group of parents that got together and said that they didn’t want the football program to go to nothing and decided to form a football league board.

“Typically, we had about six to eight teams,” he said. “The parents had to raise money and get the equipment. Honestly, I don’t see how they did it the first year. It was amazing to me. Ever since then, it’s been nothing but the parents and the volunteers that have basically raised money and have just kept it going.”

Graham said having a league like this is important because it can keep the kids in line.

“They practice anywhere from two to three times a week and they’re out there from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.,” he said. “Really, it kind of keeps them out of trouble. They could be out doing other things. To me, it kind of teaches them team work and discipline — there’s a lot of things to me that sports teaches other than sports — things about life. I think that’s important.”

Graham said approximately 100 kids sign up to play in the football league each year and that he sees the league only going up from here.

“Put it this way, we’re kind of limited by the amount of equipment we have,” Graham said. “We furnish all of the equipment. Our football league furnishes the equipment. We do the concession stands. We do fund-raisers like this and we do get gate money.”

The Andalusia football league is made up of three different age groups and they include: Tiny Mites — 6-to-8-year-olds, Termites — 9-and-10-year-olds, and Pee-Wee — 11-and-12-year-olds.

Graham said if it weren’t for the support the league receives, they would not be in existence.

“To me, if it wasn’t for the volunteers and the support we get from the community as far as the businesses, we couldn’t survive,” he said. “That’s all it boils down to. I would like to say thanks for the support from the Andalusia community. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t survive. We’ve got a board of 14 members and if it wasn’t for them, then we couldn’t operate.”