We Have Ignition

After more than a year of strategic planning and months of careful coach selection, MCCS Okinawa's Semper Fit athletic department launched the Okinawa Football League with over 300 participants including players and support.

With players ranging in age from 18 to 37, the league provided a healthy competitive outlet for Marines who had to cease playing their favorite pastime when they moved to Okinawa. The league was a success from the very beginning, and Semper Fit's program office is to thank.

First Stages

There is no simple guideline to follow when planning an entire season of football with four teams, and this was the first year since 1989 that tackle football was offered to Marines on Okinawa.

Mike Desmone, Semper Fit Program Manager, stated that his first task was determining the cost. Helmets, jerseys, officials, and even goal posts for each Camp were all factored into the final figure. MCCS Okinawa Chief of Staff Steve Pauli approved the more than $200,000 expenditure to offer the sport, and tasked the Semper Fit program office with all the planning and implementation.

Of great necessity were the bylaws that were to be set for the league. In order to set bylaws, coaches must first be chosen for each team.

Information was released to the press regarding the need for volunteer coaches, and those desiring to coach had to submit a resume and medical clearance form. It is a good idea to obtain medical clearance for coaches and players in order to reduce liability.

Once the coaches were chosen, the planning and research commenced, and it took more than two months to complete the set of bylaws.

When writing bylaws, it is imperative to do your research on what is already being used. Mr. Desmone researched the Internet, read several rule books, and asked for input from the coaches in order to write the bylaws.

The National High School Federation rule book and other recreational football rule books helped with about half of the input, the other half came from the program office.

"It's important to understand that your program is unique, and bylaws need to be generated based on your own program's situation," said Desmone. "Ask yourself, 'Is this bylaw good for the league and good for everyone involved?' It's a safe strategy of adopting successful practices and implementing them."

The equipment ordered for the league had to be ordered three to six months in advance of the advertising and promotion, and liability for the equipment was a priority.

The program office physically counted over 6,000 pieces of equipment before issuing it to each camp's representative. Then, a strict asset policy was put in place to make each coach and team member liable for their equipment. It is important to utilize your legal department for such policies to ensure all bases are covered.

With your equipment, coaches, bylaws, and staff representatives ready, it's time to promote your league. Utilizing all advertising venues is a must for a large league.

Not only do you need the players, but you need the press to involve the community and motivate the teams.

We used radio promotions as the first venue, following up with posters and flyers in the gyms, restaurants, and local newspapers and magazines.

The Pacific Stars and Stripes featured a game story on the front page several times, and the winning team photo was published in all venues.

The two teams attending the Super Bowl also received team and individual trophies. You want to motivate the team members to keep playing for you, and to keep the fans coming. This opens the door for future sponsorship. Sponsors can see how successful your first year was and possibly opt to provide jerseys, cash awards, or getaways for the winning team.

It's all a matter of logistics and planning. Give yourself ample time to get your funding, equipment, and advertising together to ensure a successful start and room for error. Bring your staff together and collaborate all of your ideas and put your action plan together for all possible scenarios. It takes everyone's support and dedication to pull off a first time success, but it's certainly possible.

For more information on beginning a football league or sports team, contact Mike Desmone, Supervisory Sports Specialist for Semper Fit Okinawa, Japan at desmonem@okinawa.usmc-mccs.org.

Kati Trammel is advertising and public relations account executive for MCCS Marketing, Semper Fit, Retail, Food and Beverage, based in Okinawa, Japan.