Four-foot tall football players in miniature pads celebrated with smiles or shed tears of disappointment as the season ended Saturday in an 18-15 game.
The players may be small, but the Lanier Bowl is as big to them as Super Bowl Sunday.
The annual championship for the Forsyth County Youth Football Association also means a lot for families. They may rent limousines for postgame player parties, paint car windows like they’re headed to a college tailgate or wear a jersey with their child’s name on the back.
The trophies handed to each player glimmered as parents’ cameras went off, but the hand that passed them out stayed out of the frame.
Phil Bourque likes it that way.
For 20 years, including the last nine as league commissioner, the Forsyth County man has worked behind the scenes of the youth football and cheerleading programs.
But soon Bourque will step down as commissioner, turning the position over to the county parks and recreation athletic division manager. The league, which has grown tremendously since his start, will be reorganized.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and loved it. And it will be hard … I’ve been in it 150 percent the last 20 years,” Bourque said. “I just think it’s time to move on. No hard feelings or anything. I think I’ve taken it to a level where I can’t take it anymore.”
His children have outgrown the youth program, and Bourque said some of his “old school” mentality has as well, making it a prime time for a new leader.
It’s under his helm as commissioner that the association has become the four-park county league that includes more than 2,600 kids.
Opportunities not as great
Bourque started as an assistant coach for the Cumming Falcons in 1993, when he was a father of three young children.
As his kids got older, Bourque got more involved. He became president of the Falcons and launched the Sawnee Mountain Park Panthers before taking on the top role as commissioner in 2003.
When he became Falcons president, the level of organization was not what it is today, and the opportunities for the children weren’t as great.
Bourque remembers sending in the equipment to get certified and refurbished, and the manufacturer couldn’t even return it because nothing passed inspection.
He started including the cost of renting equipment in the fee, and he also created scholarships for families who couldn’t afford it.
Bourque launched the preseason pep rally for the youth programs, which has become an annual event for most teams.
In his role as commissioner he organized the annual Lanier Bowl — something he described as the “best day of the year.”
His own memories of playing sports as he grew up and watching his kids enjoy their youth as part of the games is what made the job so important to him.
“I wanted to make it special for people to be part of it, more than just come, pay money and play and then go home,” he said. “If they get on the coach’s team that all he’s going to do is play his kid at quarterback even though he’s the worst kid on the team, they still have something to look forward to. That’s why I got involved.”
Has become family activity
Elaine Bourque said she knows that for some children in the youth program, playing or cheering has been “their everything.”
“I don’t think he’s even realized how many people he’s helped,” she said of her husband. “This is just what he does.”
For two decades, it’s also been what the family does together.
Phil Bourque knows he’s sacrificed family time to run the league, but the program has also been something they have done together, his wife said.
He coached his sons’ teams and his daughter’s teams when they were kids, including football, baseball, softball and involvement in wrestling.
As they’ve grown up, the crew helps in the background, such as stapling programs or cleaning up after a game.
His son, Tristan, also referees on Saturday with his dad, something Elaine Bourque said has been very meaningful.
The growth of the program has been challenging over the years and demanded sacrifices, but Elaine Bourque said she’s proud of her husband’s work as commissioner.
“He enjoys helping everybody remember what it’s really all about and keeping them grounded,” she said. “He has always wanted to make sure that he’s in it for the right reason, which is the kids.”
His focus on the children was clear at his last Lanier Bowl on Saturday.
When Andrew Dickman, president of the Midway Park association, called him to the 50-yard line, Phil Bourque shook his head and reluctantly stood in front of the crowd.
Dickman explained to the families attending that day’s games that Bourque is the man who has kept the league running, who solved problems, who answered questions.
He presented him with a plaque to be hung at a park that commemorates Bourque’s service over the years.
“He has given countless hours to everyone, to every function,” he said. “We cannot thank you enough for everything you’ve done.”
A few stepped up to snap photos of Phil Bourque and his family before he went back to his comfortable post in the background setting up the trophies.
“My kids have been part of it, and I’ve seen how they enjoyed it. I’ve seen kids that have left come back and coach, and kids that have left come back and referee,” Phil Bourque said.
“I have had to sacrifice time, but in my opinion it was worth it. I hope when my kids get older that they do that for their kids.”