KJ Life Flag Football Tournament has best turnout yet

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Jun. 20, 2013
Abbie Lester runs down the sideline on her way to scoring a touchdown for her team, Gymnastics Express, in the KJ Life Flag Football Tournament on June 14 at Riverfront Park. Photos by Steve Smith.
Abbie Lester runs down the sideline on her way to scoring a touchdown for her team, Gymnastics Express, in the KJ Life Flag Football Tournament on June 14 at Riverfront Park. Photos by Steve Smith.

More than 650 players, 200 volunteers and an estimated 1,000 spectators came out for the fifth annual KJ Life Flag Football Tournament at Riverfront Park on June 15.

After Kenneth Joyce died tragically in a skiing accident in February of 2008, his family formed the KJ Life Foundation, which provides scholarships for students from Glastonbury and surrounding towns. The flag football fundraiser has quickly become one of the best-attended events in Glastonbury, and this year's event, aided by sunny skies, was no exception.

The tournament pits teams of five players in 20-minute (two 10-minute halves) flag football games, in a double-elimination tournament. While the teams are grouped according to age brackets, it’s not unusual to see a team of boys play a team or girls, or a co-ed team play a single gender. Each team plays at least two games, while most play about five. Those that advance farthest will ultimately play about eight games.

“It's gotten a lot more diverse,” said Jeffrey Joyce, one of Kenneth’s brothers. “The first year, there was one girls' team. Now there are tons.”

While the players try their hardest, a spirit of togetherness overrides that of competition.

“I've never seen anyone mad at someone else,” Jeffrey said. “It’s just good fun. Teams that lose are still happy, and the winners are always humble. No one takes it too seriously.”

While the games are going on, there is something of a carnival atmosphere, with a variety of vendors' booths and activities, all supporting the cause. Many people come to set up a tent and enjoy the event, tailgating style.

Wendy Appel was manning a free sun block station for all of the participants, which she helped engineer with CVS, which donates the sunscreen.

“I'm here for Kenneth,” said Appel, whose son Brandon was a friend of Kenneth's. “I think that what the family has done is great – taking a tragedy and turning it into something positive, and taking something that Kenneth loved, which is football, and sharing that with other kids. It's fun, and there are so many people. It's like another Woodstock here.”

Thomas Joyce, another brother of Kenneth's, said people look forward to the event. When it was new, it became popular because of the novelty and people wanted to help support his family, but rather than fading with time, the turnouts have swelled.

“It's grown into so much more than that,” Thomas said. “Everyone that has played has had a blast. One of my favorite things is to see kids that I reffed in the beginning come back and they've brought two friends from college with them, [or] they bring their younger siblings. It's grown from something that's supported a tragic event to something the community really looks forward to.”

Morgan Smith and Allison Takahashi were classmates of Kenneth’s who returned to the event as volunteers after aging out of playing eligibility.

“We ran the concession stand today, but I've done face-painting before,” Takahashi said. “I think it's amazing how people come out. It's getting really big. People get really excited about it.

“It definitely gets a lot of donations,” Smith said. “It's great to see everyone in town.”

In the first four years of the event, KJ Life has given more than $35,000 in scholarships. Jeffrey said his mother, Pamela, works about 100 hours herself to put the event comes together with the year-round work of many volunteers.

“It's amazing. We get overwhelming support from our friends, family and all the volunteers,” Jeffrey said, adding that several people who are not players attend each year, just for the fun. “That's kind of cool that people just want to come and hang out.”

“The people who are here want to be here,” Thomas said. “It's just something that people put on their calendar and want to come back to.”

The organization also runs a blood drive and a youth leadership club, as well as sponsoring other events, promoting the values that Kenneth showed the world. KJ Life stands for Kenneth Joyce – Leadership Inspiration, and Friend to Everyone.

“Those are the qualities that Kenneth exhibited in everything he did,” Thomas said. “Anything that we can find that we think really promotes those values is where we want the money to go.”

For more information, visit www.kjlife.org.


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