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End of an era for Arran-Tara flag football tournament – London News Today

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It’s the end of an era for a long-running regional elementary school flag football tournament.

Paul Bolton, the creator of the Arran-Tara Flag Football tournament, is set to retire from teaching at the end of this school year. That will bring to a close 23 years of organizing this massive annual event at Arran-Tara Elementary School.

The tournament had humble beginnings, born after a local soccer tournament ended shortly after Bolton transferred to the school 26 years ago.

“Another teacher and I – he was at Saugeen Central – said ‘Have you got this flag football kit?’ I said ‘Yeah, I got one,’ so he said ‘Why don’t you come on over and we’ll have a little tournament.’ So we did it after school that year, we just drove over and I think we had four teams: I brought two and he had two. We had a great little day, so I said ‘Next year, why don’t we host it at my school, we’ve got all kinds of room.’ We invited all of the local schools, I had four fields going and we had four schools come and it developed into an important part of the rotation for our local schools,” Bolton said.

News of the tournament spread over time through word of mouth, as Bolton acknowledges a lot of the same teachers involved in youth sports help with a variety of teams. Soon, it became the biggest event on the elementary sports calendar.

“Within I would say, 12 years of starting it, I was up to eight fields running at a time, 48 teams in tournament, 102 games of football in five hours,” he said. “It literally is the biggest tournament in the district by far.”

Even to this year, Bolton says he handled all of the registration, scheduling and organizing of the tournament himself. However, because it was such a hit with students, they offered to help where they could.

“I’ve got all kinds of student helpers who are my score keepers and food sale people. Most importantly, I have former students who generously come back and referee for me, which is a huge job. When they leave in Grade 8, they say ‘I’m coming back next year Mr B’ and luckily I’ve had former students who have been coordinating that for me for the last five or six years,” he said.

Bolton also acknowledged the support of Tara Minor Soccer Association, which began installing porta-potties at the field a few weeks early so the tournament could benefit.

Because registration fees of the massive tournament quickly began covering the costs, Bolton decided to add a charitable element to the event over a decade ago, raising funds for a variety of causes over the years.

“We supported Sierra Leone, we supported Kenya where I personally went to on a Me to We trip with Pinball Clemons, which how that connection developed. I met him and was totally blown away with what his organization does, so we’ve been supporting them,” he said. “And I always make a point of supporting our local food bank. Many of our school families access that and I think it’s important that I can show support locally as well as spread the money around to other places that are going to do good.”

Over the years, he estimates over $15,000 has been raised for charitable causes through the tournament. That includes over $2,500 raised at this May’s event for the Tara Area Food Bank and Pinball Clemons Foundation.

The “End of an Era Tournament” on May 16 saw 48 teams from 15 schools across the district descend on Bolton’s fields. Each team played four games, and in order to add some extra incentive, along with banners, Bolton purchased WWE style championship belts for the winners. His vision is that the belt is passed on each year from champ to champ.

For the first year, one of his Arran-Tara Elementary teams claimed the title belt in the Boys A Division. The other winners were Georgian Bay Community School in the B Division and Saugeen District Senior School (SDSS) for the Girls Division.

While Bolton is stepping back from running the tournament as he heads into retirement, he says it will have a future, thanks to Duane Rushton at SDSS, who has taken up organizing the event.

“I did ask if anybody here would be willing to run it, but they all know what it takes, so nobody was willing… but the Port Elgin staff member who brings their teams – it is very much a feeder program for them because they have high school football – he offered to take it over. So I emailed him all my materials and files and I’ll meet with him in the fall to ensure that the transition goes smoothly to next year, when it will be called the Paul Bolton Classic,” he said.

So even though he won’t be in the classroom next year, Bolton will be present at next year’s event, to hand out the banners for the first-ever, Paul Bolton Classic.

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