BELLINGHAM — Unlike many parents who leave the youth coaching ranks once their children grow older, Tony Clizbe says he’s having more fun than ever with his hobby.
Maybe it’s because the 33-year-old Bellingham resident seems to have the spirit of a kid himself.
“I’m having so much fun, I can’t see leaving the Regulators,” said Clizbe, who directs the Bellingham-based Regulators Youth Sports Association and also coaches football and basketball teams. “I absolutely love our age levels.
“The other night, I went to see Squalicum play Lynden (in boys’ basketball), and it seemed like I knew almost everyone there,” he said. “It’s so much fun to see our kids grow up.”
One of those players he recognizes at Whatcom County high school basketball games is his son, Junior Clizbe, who is a junior on Bellingham’s boys’ varsity team. Like many other area players, Junior Clizbe came up through the Regulators ranks.
The Regulators offer AAU select boys’ basketball teams for each grade level in the fifth through eighth grades. In football, they field one team of 13 and 14 year olds and another for players 11-12 in the North Cascade League, which extends to Snohomish County.
“We’re in our sixth year of basketball,” Clizbe said, “and in the fall we finished our fourth year of 13-14 football, and our second year of 11-12 football. We improved in both. The older team went 3-4 in the regular season and 3-0 in the playoffs, and the younger team went 4-4 and 2-1.”
Clizbe and Craig Moore, another Bellingham man with deep ties to youth sports, tried an experiment the past two seasons while playing basketball under the label “Triple Threat.”
“What we wanted was to have 12 teams, three for each grade level, to represent Bellingham’s three large high schools,” he said. “But it didn’t turn out to be practical, and we would have had a hard time getting enough experienced coaches.
“So now Craig is running what he still calls the Triple Threat, with four teams of athletes from the attendance areas of Fairhaven and Kulshan middle schools. And I’m back with the old Regulators from the areas of Whatcom and Shuksan middle schools.”
Clizbe says that with eight teams in Bellingham, he and Moore want to continue to provide an extensive learning experience. The AAU teams practice and play from November through February, competing in weekend tournaments of up to four games. They play more than 35 games each season.
“It’s not a big problem to have some of our seventh- and eighth-graders playing in both our leagues and middle school basketball,” he said. “But with a handful in each middle school who play football for both their school and Regulator teams, it can became an issue of time management.
“Playing two football games a week (only during the middle schools’ six-game season) can be a challenge,” he said. “But it’s not nearly as tough as it would be for high school varsity players. It’s not always the best players who play on both teams, but it is always some of the most enthusiastic players.”
Clizbe says the Regulators’ two football teams have a no-cut policy, taking the first 25 players who sign up and establishing a waiting list.
“We’ve won the North Cascade Super Bowl in three of the four seasons we’ve had our older team, including last fall,” he said. “Our younger team has reached the finals both years, so we’re pretty proud of them.”
He said his basketball teams hold tryouts well before the Boys and Girls Club seasons, so players who don’t make the regulators still can sign up for their other option.
Clizbe says all Regulators’ coaches are vetted for citizenship and moral character through a program established by the Washington State Patrol.
“I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from Mike Johnson, our eighth-grade basketball coach,” Clizbe said. “He has always coached below the high school level, but you wouldn’t believe what a great coach he is.”
Clizbe coaches the seventh-grade basketball team. Larry Zender handles the sixth-graders, and Tim Dickerson guides the fifth-graders.
The basketball teams practice twice a week for 1 1/2 hours. Games are played with running clocks of about 22 minutes per half, with regular clock stoppages during the last two minutes.
Football practices on the same schedule and has a weight limit — 170 pounds for the younger team, and 215 pounds for the older team.
Clizbe, who is a health and safety manager for Mills Electric at ConocoPhillips Refinery, says he’s always asked why his association is called The Regulators.
“The moms, especially, ask about that,” he said. “It came from an old rec flag football team I used to play on, and they picked it up from the movie ‘Young Guns.’ ”