September 22, 2021

Princeton Junior Football League Starting Fall Season, Looking to Showcase Big Plays, Big Moments

By Bill Alden

Matt Bellace views football as a roller-coaster that can teach some important life lessons.

“I think football is great for managing emotions, football teaches you how to deal with disappointment,” said Bellace, who recently became the president of the Princeton Junior Football League (PJFL), succeeding Greg Ambra.

With the league kicking off its 2021 fall season on September 26 at the Princeton High turf field, Bellace is looking to emphasize some positive emotions.

“The pandemic is the thing that really made me start thinking deeply is there anything that we can add to what we do to improve things for those kids,” said Bellace of the PJFL, which has three divisions, Rookie (ages 6-8), Junior (ages 8-10) and Senior (ages 11-14), and a total of around 175 players.

“The kids have missed a lot of big moments. I look at my kids and just the social interactions at school, the interactions with teachers and trips. PJFL is just a fun league that people love being a part of it. One play can change a game so our theme is big plays, big moments. We want to bring back some big moments to these kids this year.”

Some of those big moments will be recognized by the awarding of game balls.

“We have squishy footballs to give away for big plays like a game ball, not just for the touchdowns but for the kid who had a great block, a great flag grab, a selfless kid who never complains or who is a great teammate,” said Bellace, a clinical psychologist who works with young people.

“It is ‘let’s build these kids up; they missed out on so much this year.’”

In addition, the league’s coaches will work in building up the kids.

“I brought in a facilitator to talk about emotions and how coaches can manage their emotions during the game,” said Bellace.

“What I don’t want to see is coaches getting carried away with the refs. I want the big moments to be the kids scoring the touchdowns. We are going to have a handful of these things throughout the year.”

“Last spring, I started a Game of the Week; of all of the games that we have got going, we pick one game and I have a sound system and a scoreboard,” said Bellace.

“Two high school kids announce the game, they say the names of the kids and who scored a touchdown. The kids who are in elementary or middle school are hearing high school kids announce their names and that is a big deal. I really wanted to expand on that because the kids just enjoy the whole atmosphere. I think the parents do too when they are hearing the action announced, someone gets his name announced and it just adds to it.”

Having canceled its fall 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, the PJFL was able to add a spring campaign in May and June which proved to be a big deal for the families involved.

“The kids were just so happy and the parents were so happy,” added Bellace.

Bellace, for his part, is happy to be getting the chance to lead the league.

“We are a community, that is one of the pillars of this whole program,” said Bellace.

“It feels like a community when you go out on a Sunday and see everyone there. I want to give back because I feel the PJFL has given so much to the kids and community.”