CAFL – Professional American Indoor Football in China

China Football “Passes” Another Big Test

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by Lou Tilley

WUHAN, CHINA, November 7, 2015 – With only the championship game left to be played in China’s second annual government supported college arena-football championships, it has been abundantly clear that the sport is “catching” on and “passing” the early test. Corny clichés aside, the wealth of US-based football observers on hand here in Wuhan for the Deheng Cup 4-day, 6-game round robin tournament, agreed to a man that they were encouraged with progress on one all – important front just 29 months since the first ever programs were formed at 6 key Sports Universities. “When we first worked these guys out (in June of 2013) I found some really good athletes, some big strong guys, some guys who could run. But man, you need to be able to throw a football and catch a football, especially in arena-style football.” This from Darrick Branch a former star receiver at the University of Hawaii before playing pro ball in the NFL, CFL, WFL, and – the Arena Football League. “I mean we found virtually no-one who could throw, much less catch” This week, it began to look very much like the US Arena Football League, with the ball soaring through the air, and into waiting arms. One big difference, they were all native born mainland Chinese athletes.

Ken Bozarth, whose area of operations will help locate and recruit Chinese players for the 2016 kickoff of China’s CAFL (China Arena Football League) pro league is very, very pleased. “At first I thought all our quarterbacks would have to come from abroad like the U.S, but now I see some real talent, if not as starters, then certainly as backups, where they can learn under veteran pros from the US.” Hopefully it will bloom exponentially. Bozarth thinks the myriad flag football teams that have been spreading through China for decades is the answer to where the live arms have come from. “And we (CAFL) now have enough presence for these kids to gravitate to us, to the CAFL pro league, tackle football, and a chance to make a real name, be a star.”

To help all of that along, Bozarth brought along some of his buddies from the local AFL team in his home town, Philadelphia. Dereck Stingley, the Philadelphia Soul’s defensive coordinator, and a long time coach is here alongside his fellow Soul coach (and General Manager) Phil Bogle, an NFL, WFL and AFL veteran offensive lineman. “We do not get the benefit of solid skills from the flag football league for the bigs” said Bogle. “People get all caught up in height and weight with lineman, and that’s a factor along with strength and speed, but it all comes down to technique with these guys as well, and we are gong to need to get some veteran coaches over here for more then a few weeks to put in the foundation” “But” he went on “we will, and this will work.”

One thing working in the CAFL’s favor is – ta-da – the world wide explosion of media. And I don’t just mean the many NFL and NCAA football games now seen on TV here in China. This young generation of Chinese pretty much founded mobile media. You can barely walk down a crowded Beijing street without a collision, there are so many (and I’m sure you’ve heard there are many) young people poking away on their devices. Here, at the Wuhan tournament, many of the young athletes I spoke with are self-taught, they said, by “googling” (searching I should say, there if no Google here) for tips and instructions for their positions. Certainly the arm sleeves, color combos, wrist bands, bandanas, music that is played, and even cheerleader choreography, they picked up somewhere beyond the government TV channels. And for the CAFL, that is all good.

“Its happening faster than even I thought, and I am the ultimate optimist,” crows Marty Judge, the CAFL’s founder, who has barreled ahead with his dream of pro football in China like Larry Czonka with the game on the line. Judge and his “Ocean’s Eleven” (as he calls them) of US and Beijing based support staff are getting ready for the tournament’s championship game between Sheyong and Wuhan, the host University. “We saw way more fans here this year than a year ago in Beijing, and I have noticed many of them coming back again, and bringing friends. With Wuhan in the finals, on a Friday night, I am really anticipating a big crowd here. Just a year ago, I thought that may have been unrealistic. This is one time I am very happy to be mistaken!”

LTM (Lou Tilley Media) is on site in Wuhan for the tournament this week. Look for Lou Tilley’s stories and insights as well as multi-media from the LTM team who are on site to capture the content of the evolving story of The CAFL.

The China Arena Football League (CAFL) will be showcased in Guanggu Gymnasium at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province, from Nov 3- Nov 7.

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