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The most radical of Cupp's proposals, his favorite and the one he knows is not going to get him elected little league coach of the year, is the one whereby every player gets a shot at glory by playing a position in which he actually handles the ball. Cupp says coaches laughed when he suggested the idea last fall. Later, "when we were running them out of the ball park," they quit laughing.
"I used to see stagnation set in when kids were relegated to a position like guard or tackle for the whole year. It was like a sentence. Before long, many of the linemen wouldn't even show up for practice. They were usually the smallest guys, anyway—that's the way it works in the little leagues—and what did they need with extra punishment? They were getting enough on Saturday. I couldn't blame 'em. They were typecast. One coach used to bring a roll of masking tape to practice and slap GUARD or TACKLE on the players' helmets, like a brand.
"Let's face it. Running the ball, throwing it, catching a pass, making touchdowns—those are the things kids think of as football. Sustained drives and quality blocking they may think about later, when they're in high school, but for now they don't and shouldn't have to. We're not a feeder system for the high school coaches."
A recent questionnaire gave league kids a choice of playing for a losing team or sitting on the bench for a winner, and they voted almost unanimously to play. "They'd rather play than sit any day," says Cupp. "Busting into the line with the ball can be an unforgettable experience for a fat little kid who will never get the chance again. Next year he may be a guard for good.
"So I worked out my rotation system this way. With my 15 players, I drew up three different offensive teams. Each player, every game, would have to play three positions: a ball-handling position such as halfback, quarterback, fullback, a receiver, and an interior lineman. The more talented players got to play two ball-handling positions, but every kid got a chance at least one.
"Funny things happened. The parents objected, some of them. Some of the kids objected, too. One kid refused to play anything but center. He said he didn't want to goof up. But after a while even the prima donnas came to realize there was more to football than being the star and everybody else blocking.
"One coach, a good friend of mine, said what I was doing was impossible. 'You're nuts,' he said. He beat us pretty good the first time we tried it. Then, when we got rolling, we beat him 20-0. He said, 'Maybe you got something.'
"The thing is, it was fun for the kids, and fun for me. I can't tell you the kick I get seeing a kid discover the joys of football. When I was coaching the real little guys, the peewees, I'd see one show up on the first day, thigh pads hanging over his knees, knee pads around his shins, shoulder pads on backward with the underarm straps under his crotch. He didn't know a linebacker from a carburetor. He wasn't interested in 'sticking' anybody. He didn't even know what that was.
"And then when he ran his first sweep it was a problem just holding onto the ball. But he excited you with the possibilities. You watched him run, all wide-eyed and open-mouthed, with a smile on his face. It's a joy.
"The trick," says Bob Cupp, "is to keep him smiling."