Big action from little players in Craig |

Big action from little players in Craig

Ben Bulkeley

Christine Balderston started recording football stats five years ago.

When she started, she recorded tackles and rushing yards, but as the years went by, she expanded her stat sheet to include pass attempts, penalty yards, sacks, receiving yards and kick returns.

All these stats are kept for the Bengals of the Craig Parks and Recreation fifth- and sixth-grade Doak Walker football team.

"Every year, we've added more and more stats to the book," she said.

Balderston started recording stats for her husband, Mark, when their son, Matt, started playing football.

Mark Balderston, who along with Billy Bingham coaches the Bengals, said the stats serve an important purpose for his team.

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"The best reason is at the end of the year we tell them how many rushing yards they had, or how many tackles," Mark said. "It's something they can sink their teeth into.

"It's almost like grades — they see that they had 15 tackles in a game, so they know they did a good job."

Over time, Christine Balderston said she has come to appreciate what the stats mean for young players.

"Mark and Billy are really focused on the kids during the game," she said. "Those two guys live for their players. I decided to do whatever I could to help.

"Now, I like doing it. It keeps me busy."

But, it isn't just stats that make it into Christine Balderston's book.

Whenever a player on the field makes a big hit, or has a momentum-changing play, a star is marked down next to their name.

At the next practice after the game, that star is given out in the form of a sticker, not unlike what some college teams do.

"It's like a badge of honor for the kids," Mark Balderston said. "Football is like war, and the kids are proud to wear their medals."

On Tuesday at Woodbury Sports Complex, several Bengals earned not only their stars, but their stripes as well.

For some of the more than 90 athletes spread out among the seven teams playing Doak Walker, Tuesday night's games are a big deal.

Like Josh Worster, 10, who might have a star coming his way following the Bengals' 19-0 win over the Steelers on Tuesday night at Woodbury Sports Complex.

Worster, who plays quarterback and defensive end, made an open field tackle following a fumble to keep the Bengals in the lead.

"Football has always been my favorite sport," he said. "I just think it's fun. I like being on defense, getting to knock the crud out of the other guys."

That fun comes after a preseason in which Worster did extra running to stay in shape.

"I threw the ball a lot since last Christmas," he said. "My dream is to one day be a pro."

Like Worster, 12-year-old quarterback Mikey Bingham said Doak Walker football is big to the players on the field.

"Football's my favorite sport," he said. "It's really important to us."

On Tuesday, Mikey ran for two touchdowns and teammate Alex Nevarez scored another, but it was the team that shone through, Mikey said.

"They helped by making the blocks," he said. "It was a really good team effort."

Since the Doak Walker season started in August, Mark Balderston and Billy Bingham have tailored their playbook — which contains more than 300 plays — to approximately 60 plays that reflect the talent on the field.

The quarterbacks and defensive playmakers wear armbands with every play numbered and written down to try to keep it simple.

"Every year the playbook is different," Mark Balderston said. "If we have really fast backs, we'll put in plays for them.

"Or, if we have a good line, we'll try to take advantage."

The plays tailored to the defense are especially strong this year, Mikey Bingham said.

"I think it will be our defense that helps us win this year," he said.

Like Mikey, Worster said this year could be a special one for the Bengals.

"I think (Tuesday's game) will be one of our best games this year," he said. "This is going to be a good year."

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