Tournament History

Written April 25, 2024
Michael Preston, IFAF Content Writer and Media Liaison

Humble beginnings

In 1920, ten football teams gathered in Canton, Ohio to create the American Professional Football Association (APFA), now known as the National Football League (NFL).

On October 3 of that year, some 200 miles away but still within the state of Ohio, the Dayton Triangles hosted what is recognized as the first-ever game in NFL history as they defeated the Columbus Panhandles 14-0.

So, it was fitting that almost 89 years later, Fawcett Stadium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton – since renamed to honor the late New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson – played host to the inaugural IFAF Junior World Championship.

Eight nations descended on Canton, welcomed by Walsh University where all participants were housed and practiced during a true celebration of youth football.

Fierce competition

Canada arrived as the number one seed by virtue of having won the most recent NFL Global Junior Championship; a similar annual event played in the Super Bowl host city between 1997 and 2007, which had proved that the concept of international U19 competition was viable.

Each nation’s flag was affixed to the outside of the stadium, though the Canadian maple leaf had to be lowered below the stars & stripes when it was pointed out that despite their superior seeding, no flag was permitted to fly above that of the United States on American soil.

Once the games kicked off, New Zealand, who had dispatched rivals Australia in a qualifier in monsoon-like rain to qualify, were no match for Canada and suffered a 55-0 defeat.

Similarly, the United States breezed past one of three European qualifiers, France, by 78 unanswered points.

Among the enviable major college-bound talents available to celebrated U.S. high school head coach Chuck Kyle was running back David Wilson, who would eventually become a first round NFL Draft selection of the New York Giants.

Japan edged Germany 10-7, while Mexico scored 41 unanswered points against Sweden to set up some intriguing semifinal and consolation bracket games.

Canada and Japan went toe to toe and the deciding moment came down to the final possession of a 38-35 victory for the Canadians.

It was assumed that they would meet USA in the final, and true to form the Americans shut out Mexico 55-0.

Becoming Champions

The day of the Championship Game attracted more than 5,000 spectators on the opening day – more than the number that had witnessed that historical debut NFL game – as Wilson ran for 87 yards and a touchdown.

Baylor-bound quarterback Bryce Petty threw for three touchdowns and would also later spend time in the NFL, starting games for the Jets and Dolphins while throwing four career touchdowns.

“Kids from all over America came together with a couple of things that bind us together: The love of the game of football and the love of your country,” said victorious head coach Kyle after a 41-3 USA win.

A 42-27 win over Mexico earned an impressive Japan team the bronze medal, while Germany beat New Zealand and Sweden to finish fifth overall.

France came in seventh by beating New Zealand 34-6.

Towards the future of junior football

Canada had its revenge three years later, winning the world title with a 23-17 win over the United States in Austin, Texas.

“We had one goal and one goal in mind and that was to come back with a Gold Medalaround our neck,” said Canada head coach Noel Thorpe. “These guys believed in it and they played 48 minutes of solid football. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”

USA reclaimed their crown in Kuwait in 2014, but since then Canada has reigned, bringing home gold medals from China in 2016 and Mexico in 2018.

The Coronavirus pandemic robbed the next generation of junior talent of the opportunity to rule the world, but in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2024, eight teams will contest the IFAF U20 World Junior Championship as Canada looks to record an unprecedented "threepeat."