'Buzz' returns to Butler football
BUTLER TWP — It's all about the buzz.
And Butler football's got it.
The Golden Tornado are headed to the District 10 playoffs after posting the high school varsity's first winning season in 24 years.
Butler's junior high team was 7-2 this season, its 41-player roster its biggest in a number of years.
Two BAMFL teams reached the United Youth Football League Super Bowl, marking the fifth straight year the organization has sent at least one team to the UYFL title game.
The BAMFL fielded two junior varsity teams and two varsity teams in the UYFL this season.
“A positive culture is back in the program,” Butler Junior High coach Brian Hilderbrand said. “That's what we've all been striving for. You can feel the buzz. You can see the interest.”
Shane Burchett, defensive coordinator for the BAMFL varsity team — which has gone to four consecutive Super Bowls — has seen his teams go 42-5 during that stretch. Todd Simko is head coach of the team.
“The success we built at the youth level is translating to the high school level now,” Burchett said. “Just like we may have helped build their (roster) numbers, the high school success will turn around and continue to build our numbers.”
The BAMFL varsity team that went to the Super Bowl this season was 12-0 before dropping a 24-6 decision to Mars in that title game. The BAMFL had roughly 50 players comprising its two teams at the varsity level (age 11-12) this year.
“We have the belief that it takes a village,” Burchett said of building a winning youth program. “It's not just football. We built a family atmosphere, a brotherhood first, then started building a football team.”
Tom Robson's grandson, Gavin Campbell, plays for BAMFL. Gavin lost his mother to breast cancer and Robson said the youth football program rallied around him.
“From Day One, when we signed up for this ... It's a family you're involved with. It's a family you're joining,” Robson said. “When my daughter knew her time was running out, the mites (Gavin's team) gave her a helmet on which she wrote some encouraging words for him.
“The coaches and players signed that helmet and presented it to Gavin as a keepsake, a memorial to his mom. That's the kind of thing this program does.
“It's the best organization I can talk about. It's all charity work these coaches do. They're all volunteers. They love these kids and understand how they come from diverse backgrounds. They don't just teach football. They teach these kids life,” Robson added.
The BAMFL teams do camp outs, film sessions, community days, team meals and a powder puff game against their mothers, among other activities.
While the youth teams are winning, Butler High School coach Eric Christy says there is another element at that level that's even more important.
“Are the kids coming back the next year? That's the true mark of success at the youth level,” Christy said.
“To do that, they have to be having fun,” Burchett said. “Todd had a huge picnic at his house for these kids. That sort of thing works well.”
Noah Ritchie, a sophomore at Butler and quarterback of the Tornado's high school junior varsity team, came through the Butler midget program.
His father, Paul Ritchie, was head coach of the BAMFL's mites (ages 7-8) team. His team made the Super Bowl after losing its first two games.
“I was impressed by how much our kids improved during the season,” Coach Ritchie said. “We lost to North Allegheny, 38-15, in the regular season, then beat them 33-0 in the playoffs.
“We played an Avonworth team that was 5-0 and averaging more than 40 points a game, and we beat them, 15-0. As a feeder program, this midget program is becoming super successful.”
Sophomores JunJun Andrada, Braylon Littlejohn, Landon Lacey, David Graef — all key contributors to Butler's high school varsity team this season — were members of BAMFL Super Bowl teams a few years ago.
“Absolutely, the BAMFL is making an impact,” Coach Ritchie said.
Christy and other high school coaches have gone to BAMFL practices, spoken to kids and helped out with instruction.
“We've got a great relationship with them,” Burchett said of the high school program. “Whatever we need, they're there to help us out.
“Coach Christy believes in the core vales of family, things of that nature. We're on the same page there. They tell us their door is always open if we want to come to a high school practice. They help our coaches learn how to coach.”
Christy likes the increase Butler football is showing at all levels in two areas: Wins and participation.
“Both breed excitement,” he said. “Both are good for our future.”