Players grinned as flashes from their parents' cameras popped just outside Bakersfield High School's football stadium Wednesday evening. Most of the players, preparing for the beginning of the Jack Frost Football League, were still wearing their uniforms and pads, their folks wanting to capture the moment they left the field.
On Wednesday evening the league celebrated the start of its 50th season with four games between its seven teams (the defending league champion Eagles played twice).
"(This league) is more about teaching the skills and getting ready for high school," said Russell Martin, a member of the league's board of directors. "We don't just prepare the players for the next level. We're preparing coaches and officials and parents."
"These are all great kids and it's a good program," league vice president Rick Phillips said. Phillips has been working with the league since the late 70s. "This develops these kids for high school and it keeps them out of trouble."
Martin, who wore the silver and black of the Tejon Theater Trojans in 1974, is now the secretary/treasurer on the league's board of directors.
The league is named for the man who led Bakersfield College football from 1934 to 1952, winning the first Metropolitan Championship in 1947 and coached Kern County Union High School (later to be named Bakersfield High) for seven years before that.
The Martin family has been involved in various ways since the league started with four teams. Martin's father, Bob, was a founding board member and served as president of the league from 2005 through 2006. In fact, Russell Martin and his brother, Rick, also had back-to-back two-year stints as president in the '90s.
They've served multiple roles and have been involved with the all-volunteer league for around 30 years or so.
Created to fill the gap between youth and high school football, the league has survived a half-century that included an economic downturn that has lasted since 2008, thanks to its many volunteers.
"There were a bunch of guys in junior high education -- my father included -- who saw a need to get the kids off the street, keep them out of trouble and that sort of stuff," Russell Martin said. "There was no organized, recreational football. So they formed the league in '63."
The teams, made up of sixth, seventh and eighth graders, boast close to 300 players now, an impressive growth since 1963. There's no draft for the players; they're grouped by proximity to their local high schools, though the boundaries aren't exact matches.
And the players are also not guaranteed time on the field like some leagues.
"This is about life skills," Rick Martin said. "We want them to get ready for high school, when the coach determines who plays."