Kyiv gets its first college American football team
The Stallions, one of three American football teams in Kyiv, have come up with a new trick play: The team is joining forces with the National Pedagogical Dragomanov University, thus becoming the capital’s first college football team.
The new sports formation, which will include men’s football, women’s flag football, and cheerleading teams, aims to set an example for other Ukrainian teams and universities to follow.
“We plan to create an ideal sports structure inside a university, which will be a case study for all of Ukraine,” says Maksym Shylo, the Stallions’ co-manager.
Ukraine has never had an American football team fully integrated into a university structure. Teams like the Uzhhorod Lumberjacks have only recruited players from university students.
Other teams have added universities’ abbreviations to their names in order to use their gyms and stadiums, like the Donetsk ScythiansDonNTU team, which now plays in the Russian championship following Russia’s occupation of parts of eastern Ukraine.
But the Stallions are linking up with Dragomanov University much more closely.
“We will do a lot of work with students to make them fall in love with the sport. Some will get involved in the sports program, others can support the team by writing, or working on TV to cover the games,” Shylo says.
Shylo, 39, is also the president of the Ukrainian League of American Football, which includes 24 teams from all over Ukraine. Still a play- er himself, he co-founded the Kyiv Stallions last year to set an example of how an American football team in Ukraine can function.
Although they are probably the best-organized team in Ukraine, the Stallions still don’t have enough financing. Advertising partners, broadcasting deals and sponsors cover less than 50 percent of the team’s spending, according to Shylo. The rest comes out of the pockets of the players and managers themselves.
The aid that the Ukrainian government provided via the National Federation of American Football in Ukraine is meager and ineffective, Shylo says. That’s why the 24 teams left the federation in 2016 to form their own league.
Inefficiency and bureaucracy are also traits of many state universities in Ukraine. So instead of trying to create a football team using university resources, Shylo first set up an independent team with its own facilities and equipment, and then attached it to the Dragomanov University.
“We bought everything ourselves,” he says. “And now students can join without having to spend any money. The university also gets benefits without spending any of its resources. And the team will develop young talent, which is the main point.”
Having an American football team, the university hopes to get its students more involved in the sport, and for the team to become ambassadors of the university’s traditions and values.
“American football in universities is a certain culture that unites positive people. And every student will be able to use his or her talents there,” says Pavlo Bilonozhko, advisor to the rector on youth policy at Dragomanov University.
Also, by becoming a symbol of Dragomanov University, the Stallions can potentially increase their fan base with the more than 30,000 students enrolled there. And more fans means more advertising and broadcasting revenue.
The Stallions are now finishing their first football season. The team already has 44 players aged from 18 to 30, making it one of the biggest in the league, according to Shylo. When the new season starts in spring, at least a third of the players should be university students.
Players are invited to join via recruitment posters that have been put up in Dragomanov University hallways. Since the merger on Sept. 13, 10 male students have already joined the team, Shylo says.
Another five female students are trying out for the new women’s flag football team, a contactless version of American football. The women’s cheerleading team is also off the ground, with six women already wanting to join. Both women’s teams will be called “the Horsy.”
Besides competing in the Ukrainian League, the Stallions plan to hold friendly matches with European teams. But its main goal is to set a clear example for other Ukrainian teams that want to merge with a university.
“We plan to help teams that join universities to be successful and prosper,” Shylo says. “And when there are enough successful student teams, then we’ll start a college league — the first one in Europe.”
The Kyiv Stallions go on the offensive against the Lviv Lions in a championship game on July 8 in Lviv. (Courtesy of The Kyiv Stallions)