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.

Every­body wins

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.

League plans

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)

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