Written By: Ben Cosgrove

In 1939 LIFE noticed that youngsters around the country were, in increasing numbers, playing football under the aegis of organized leagues. But one Colorado league, in particular, caught the eye of LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. As the magazine told its readers in its Oct. 9, 1939, issue:

In Denver this fall, the daydreams of some 550 youngsters, 8 to 18 years old, are coming true. These schoolboys are all members of a non-school organization called the Young America League, which is teaching them to play regular eleven-man football. It is much more fun than scrimmaging in a backyard. When they play for the League, they have their own brightly colored uniforms. Regular coaches teach them to block and tackle. Every Saturday they play regular games, and sometimes 4,000 people come to watch them. With such experience, they figure, they are sure to be great football heroes when they go to college.

The League was started in 1927 when a distracted Denverite named Frederic Adams was entertaining two young nephews. He created an athletic club and arranged for the kids to play football. An essential feature was that every boy, regardless of ability, would have a chance to play. The idea spread and branch clubs were formed. Today the League claims to have the world’s youngest organized football players.

The kids also love the initiation. A candidate swears to be a good student and not bully the girls. Then he must say: “I promise to remember that what matters most is courage; that it is no disgrace to be beaten; but that the great disgrace is to turn yellow.”

Courage is a good thing. Not bullying girls — or boys, or anyone — is a good thing. Being a good student is, generally speaking, a good thing. Sounds like the Young America League might have been on to something.

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Young America League Football, 1939

Young America League Football, 1939

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

More Like This

Queen Elizabeth II's 1957 North America tour. history

70 Photos In Honor of Queen Elizabeth’s 70 Years On The Throne

history

A Pioneering NHL Photographer Chooses Her Favorite LIFE Hockey Photos

history

The Aftermath of War: A Powerful New Exhibition Comes to New York

history

Prince Charles and Tricia Nixon: The Match That Didn’t Take

history

Yabba Dabbo Doo!: Inside Hanna-Barbera and “TV’s First Cartoon for Grownups”

history

Training with “The World’s First Paleo CrossFitting Locavore”