Youth tackle football league localized in Jefferson County
Jefferson County had long desired to have its own, in-house tackle football league. Past plans gained momentum, only to fizzle out somewhere along the process. This upcoming fall, a sought-after league will finally commence.
The tackle football league, which is open to fifth- and sixth-graders, will be an eight-man game, modeled after USA Football's pilot program known as "Rookie Tackle" that is meant to bridge the gap between flag and 11-man tackle football.
The Madras Aquatic Center and Recreation District, in particular Director of Recreation Gregg Markwardt, helped develop the idea into a league. Two teams from Madras, one from Culver, one from Warm Springs, as well as teams from Sisters, La Pine and Gilchrist will round out a total of eight teams. Prineville didn't garner enough collective interest to field a team this year, but Markwardt said they will be part of the league next season.
Teams in Jefferson County range from 16-18 kids. Kelly Simmelink and Ryan Boyle will coach the Madras teams; Alvis Smith III will coach the Warm Springs team; and Marttii Rahi will coach the Culver team.
So what allowed this league to come together, whereas past attempts failed?
"It was all the communities pulling the trigger at the same time," Markwardt said. "That was a conversation I had with them very early on saying, 'If we do this, we have to stick together and we have to have a four-year commitment to make sure that if someone drops out, we're not like, 'Well now what do we do?''
Prior to the initiation of this league, fifth- and sixth- graders in Jefferson County, and beyond in Central Oregon, had one of two options if they wanted to play some form of football. They could either play tackle football for a team in the Bend Parks and Recreations District, which meant commuting from their own communities each weekend to play in Bend. Or, they could play flag football in their own communities, but face a steep learning curve if they were to play tackle football down the road.
The goal of the league is two-fold: to teach kids skills of a complex game, while keeping in mind the concepts of local high school programs these youth teams will feed into. They will also put an emphasis on player safety — a key factor in organizers choosing eight-man football rather than 11-man.
Overwhelming research suggests injuries occur more often on special teams plays, which ultimately led organizers to leave out that aswpect of the game. Plus, it is one less thing kids have to learn as many of them begin learning to play tackle football for the first time.
"Ultimately, what we want to do is, get kids involved at a young age, for safety reasons as well, because the game progresses so much at the high school level," Markwardt said. "So if the kids can learn proper technique, proper tackling, proper form at a young age, it will be instilled as the game progresses."
While Bend and Redmond have the numbers to justify hosting those games locally, Jefferson County and other Central Oregon communities involved in this league felt it was important to host practices and games locally, creating a more homegrown feel than past ventures.
"The community, I think, is really excited about having it here — that community pride,' Markwardt said. "It's our own program; it's our own parks and recreation district."
Practices begin Sept. 6 and games will take place on Saturdays from Sept. 23 to Nov. 11.