Fort Wayne native and former NFL punter Jason Baker is part of a group that has created a new nonprofit organization operating in the area: the Northeast Indiana Football Association.
NIFA's mission, according to a statement released by the nonprofit, is to expand opportunities for youth football players in northeast Indiana.
“This is a 'for us, by us' organization – designed in partnership with those it will serve and benefit,” Baker said in a statement. “We believe that football is a powerful tool to build stronger leaders and better communities, thanks to character qualities like teamwork, discipline, focus and resilience that come from a positive football experience. This organization is committed to providing every youth football player with that type of experience.”
The organization's first initiative is called the Root System, developed in partnership with the Police Athletic League in Fort Wayne, East Allen County Schools, Fort Wayne Community Schools and Homestead. The program, in a pilot phase in 2021, involves schools from each of the school systems hosting PAL teams.
At each school, PAL team will be taught football, following NIFA's best practices for safety and development of athletes. The nonprofit plans to provide professional learning and also support to coaching staffs and mentors.
“Together, schools and leagues will ensure that all players are given an equal opportunity to participate in football the right way,” Baker said in the statement.
NIFA plans to eventually offer programs for participants through their senior years in high school. If and when they are put in place, those programs will be created in coordination with the NFL Foundation, NFL Youth Football and USA Football as well as local and regional organizations and foundations, the organization said.
PAL rates for the 2021 season are $25 for flag football (first through third grade) and $90 for tackle football (fourth through sixth grade). Sign-up and financial assistance information is available at www.playnifa.org.
Baker played high school football at Wayne and then punted at Iowa, where he set records for punts and punt yardage. He went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL for the 49ers, Eagles, Chiefs, Colts (2004), Broncos and Panthers.