Paul Prater was looking for a way to get back on the football field.
Prater, a Forsyth County resident since he was 3 years old, played football for North Forsyth before graduating in 2002. He was a lineman the Raiders team that stormed the Georgia Dome in the 2001 Class 3A semifinals.
It had been a few years since his high school career ended, but Prater found his way.
He started playing pickup football with a group of guys at Bennett Park about 10 years ago. Since then, it has grown tremendously, transforming into a miniature league called Bennett Park Flag Football and giving people of all ages a chance to compete on the football field.
“That’s when I got brought into it. It had been going on a couple years before that,” Prater said. “I got introduced into it by a friend of a friend, and I ended up carrying on as I guess the leader and founder to keep everything going with it.”
Chuck Adams, who has been playing there for about five years, said the group message boasts 134 people, though not everyone shows up each week.
But for Thanksgiving Day this year, the league’s Turkey Bowl, Adams expects enough people to show up that they can have their own four-team playoff.
“I’m by no means a speedy guy, so to have a sport where I can actually excel somewhere, it means a lot,” Adams said. “If I don’t get to go out, or if numbers aren’t high enough, it’s such a drag. I’ll wake up Sunday morning and be like, ‘Well, what do I do for the next three hours before football starts up?’”
The group meets every Sunday, but their Turkey Bowl has grown into an annual tradition.
“Kind of like the same thing with the league, it kind of just snowballed out,” Prater said. “It originally started like, ‘Hey guys, everybody’s off. Who wants to get together and play?’ Then, I think for one or two years, Thanksgiving was when we competed against another group of guys that we don’t usually play against. From there, every Thanksgiving we started getting more and more numbers, even just guys from our groups. It’s just kind of snowballed from there and gotten to where it is now.”
Adams, who is originally from Maryland, has been a football player ever since he was old enough.
He’s been part of leagues in the past, even driving to Stone Mountain at one point to play football.
“The problem is, in Gwinnett you cannot get on a turf field,” Adams said. “They’re all rented. Forsyth County is the only county you can actually find an available turf field for pickup games. It’s phenomenal. It’s awesome.”
The group features a healthy number of locals while a handful of guys make the drive from Atlanta or Dacula, or even as far away as Cleveland.
“The main thing is, for a lot of guys who go out there, that’s the bulk of our physical activity for the week,” Prater said. “A lot of us guys are sitting behind desks and things like that all week long. Of course, I have children and everything, so I don’t get to the gym on a regular basis or anything like that. That’s our workout for the weekend.”
The rules closely outline professional or collegiate football, with penalties such as intentional grounding, pass interference and holding.
But with no referees around, the responsibility of enforcing penalties falls on the players.
“We set the rules up, it’s a full-contact flag,” Adams said. “It’s a competitive game, so people argue. But for the most part we have wiped out any arguing.
“We don’t try to hurt anybody and we have a good time.”