The scene in front of the the West Bank mall in Belén was one of unfamiliarity for onlookers on Saturday, March 14 where The Costa Rican Federation of American Football (FCFA) kicked off its first North American football season.
Several hundred people attended the league’s debut match as the Bulldogs hosted the Dragons FA of Cartago. Referee’s whistles screeched. “Go baby go!” echoed fans from sideline to sideline.
The complex rules of the game were difficult for some to grasp, but the lively event proved entertaining for all in attendance.
“I don’t understand much,” said Diego Vega who stopped by to see his friend play. “But it’s interesting, and I would like to see more games.”
The FCFA is the vision of Costa Rica native Reyhan Fraile. Fraile founded the league in 2007 after he gained interest in the sport while training as a body builder in Miami, Florida.
The league consists of six teams, and most have been training together since October 2008.
Around 80 percent of the players are from Costa Rica, according to Eric Arce, a marketing representative for the FCFA, but most of the coaches and trainers hail from the sport’s birthplace in North America.
Dale McNew, the wiry and animated head coach of the Dragons FA, is from the U.S. state of Oklahoma where he played football at NortheasternOklahomaA&MCommunity College. Between shouts and fiery pep talks, Coach McNew was able to calmly express the interest he has seen in the league.
“There is definitely a lot of interest,” McNew said. “I think we have to be careful to make sure no one gets hurt, but it’s something that can definitely sustain itself in Costa Rica.”
McNew said the most difficult task as a coach was training players who had very little experience with the sport.
“I had to start teaching them everything,” he said. “What is a first down? What is a second down?”
One of McNew’s players, Alexis Hernández, joined the team in January and admitted he struggled with all the intricacies of the game. Hernández had experience playing in pick-up games at La Sabana Park, but said those “just-forfun games” didn’t prepare him for what he encountered when he became a member of the Dragons FA.
“There were a lot of rules,” the 29-year old said as sweat poured down his all-black uniform. “It’s difficult to understand them, but we can do it.”
Although some players on McNew’s team are still learning, the coach said the Ticos “grasp concepts very quickly” and show “a tremendous amount of discipline.”
Saturday’s opening game ended in a 19-6 victory for the Dragons FA.
This year’s season will continue every Saturday through mid-June at the 80-yard football field in Belén.
Fraile said he hopes to expand the league to 10 teams next year and possibly add a women’s league.
But for now he is proud of what the federation has accomplished.
“It’s excellent,” he said while enjoying a halftime cheerleading performance. “The players have learned a lot. They’re all very athletic and have come a long way in the past few months.”