What Level of Football Do You Play?

With the traditional Fall 2021 football season registration coming up, we wanted to address some of the unfortunate confusion in town relative to our levels of football.  Flag football is the lowest level of youth football a kid can play. It’s less competitive, cheaper, shorter practices, almost all games are played ‘in house’ or within Park Ridge at our local parks versus its big older brother, our well-known ‘Falcons Travel Tackle’ football program.  Falcons typically start practicing earlier in the season, play some of their games at Maine South’s Wilson Field, and typically play other traveling teams from nearby communities. For the past few years now, we’ve had over 50 Flag teams and around 10 or more Falcon’s traveling tackle teams.  And for over 50 years, our Falcons have won 4 national championships and 23 conference championships, while developing and feeding Maine South High School thousands of talented and committed football players along the way.  Yet, no one cares where you played in youth sports.

Progressive Development in Youth Football

Many kids start out playing “house” or Flag football in our case, and then transition to travel, but some do not. Yes, there are those who never leave the house or Flag league (Pre-K to 8th grade levels) because they prefer non-contact football, their skills never develop enough for travel play, or they simply prefer not to play contact football until high school (if ever).  All reasons are fine with us.  We respect and know that many of our community’s sons and daughters are “good enough” for travel now, but travel tackle football isn’t the right fit for their family.  In the end, we are fully agnostic and supportive of whatever parent/player’s choice of play is for them and their family.

House vs Travel vs Select – Different Types of Youth Football

We realize that most of our parents and players in Park Ridge will start out in Flag football, and then maybe 50% or so will transition into Travel or Falcons at some point in time.  From passion to commitment, there is nothing inferior about playing one version of football over another.  We’ve heard rumors of middle school kids and some of their still-wearing-their-high-school-letter-jacket-parents have told or inferred to other kids who are NOT playing on their team that they “suck”, “should quit playing football”, “won’t play in high school unless they play for us”, or “Oh, just Flag football”.  We know that is nonsense and simply doesn’t align with our high school’s culture, but it should never be dismissed simply out of hand. Some parents don’t respect that football is a team sport, and diversity of talents is why it appeals to so many young athletes big or small, short or tall, or quick or slow.  In the end, everyone has a place to play on a football field (if you have good coaching, which we do of course).

All Youth Football Athletes Are Good Enough

Unfortunately, youth sports now have a generation of parents living vicariously through their child’s athletic accomplishments, and not innocently, want to eliminate their child’s competition prematurely.  Elite or Select are typically labels created for a team or program’s recruiting image or hubris, usually by ego-driven, win-at-all-costs coaches and directors who want to bring in athletes from other communities IF they don’t directly compete with their own children’s positions. It allows them to create a “super regional all-star” team branding, largely for out-of-state tournaments and bragging rights at the country club.  Odds are, most of these kids aren’t playing in college or for the Chicago Bears either. Before you realize you’ve been playing a version of 3 card monte, you will discover that all youth football athletes are good enough to make their local high school’s varsity football team.

Athletes First, Community Second

We can tell you where most of the football fields are in the Chicago region, where the nearest Starbucks is within a 5- mile radius of a travel game and realize most parents can now adjust a helmet’s chin strap with their eyes closed.  Our Park Ridge Park District and this community has done a great job at supporting us with our growing number of participants with the fields needed to practice and play, and our Board of Directors is now more diverse and inclusive of all our families’ needs, not just our own or football obsessed.  Now through our Park Ridge Football and Cheer Night at Maine South event each Fall, we bring the kids and community together – and give out some nice hats!

Trying to Recapture a Little of the Glory

While we realize that most of our football and cheerleading parents’ SUVs and minivans often smell like locker rooms, having balls and equipment falling out an open door, our parents were the original ride-share option that created many ‘extended’ sports families.  Deep friendships from conversations and connections made through these traveling about for these outdoor sports are made.  We know classmates and neighbors are often split up due to team size and other reasons – which can often be beneficial for positional development, but we do our best to respect requests to play with friends. We are strongly committed to supporting all local athletes no matter what program or sport they participate in.  Hopefully with time and the right leadership, what unites them as teammates as they progress into high school and beyond will be what they most remember while playing in these sports during their formative years.  We care about creating values and long-lasting friendships much more than creating “youth football or high school legends” that won’t mature past their ‘Glory Days’ faded memories.