Marengo Union Indians Junior Tackle Football Club has had great success. Last year, they were undefeated. It was also the first year since 1994 that the 12 year-old Marengo Middle Weights made it to the Super Bowl, said Steve Stavroplos, head coach for Marengo Union Junior Tackle.
“It’s been a while since Marengo’s won,” Stavroplos said. “So, it was a pretty big thing for the town, and something special for the program. Now, [we’ve] already been hearing about more kids wanting to try out and more kids wanting to join the program. Everyone wants to be a part of the experience; and that helps the program from our age group, all the way down. And maybe even the high school program for next year.”
Marengo Union Junior Tackle plays: Hampshire, Harvard, Big Foot, Richmond, Johnnsburg, St. Mary’s, St. Ed’s and Lake Geneva. Stavroplos, who said he’s been coaching the team for five years, said the talent on the team has, “never been lacking.”
“Since the beginning, we’ve always been pretty successful,” he said. “I think we lost one game the first year; and the last two years we lost one game. We were undefeated last year; and gave up one touchdown. The talent level is definitely there.”Stavroplos said that aside from the talent, the children also work as a great unit. “I don’t consider us a football team; I consider us a football family,” he said. “Everyone’s super close. Everyone cares about everyone else. As hard as the kids worked for the Super Bowl season, I think they made it really easy on us coaches. They’re just a great, great group of kids.”
Tim Keefer, a coach, said he noticed that when one team member gets hurt, an-other is there to help their teammate. “It’s a special bond they have that I don’t think another team would have,” Keefer said. “It’s good to see a group of kids like that because a lot of kids don’t’ have that.”Charlie Wightman, a coach, said that due to the weight limits, every team member has had to play a different position.
“They all stepped up and grabbed the bull by the horns and did it, just because that’s the way the kids are,” he said.
Jodi Wightman, a director, parent, and-board member for Marengo Union Junior Tackle, said all three coaches have been coaching from the Bantams, (the youngest team), on up. Scott McMakin and Brent Knobloch are also coaches for the teams.
“Marengo Union Junior Tackle Football Club was founded in 1983 by a group of merchants devoted to providing a junior tackle football program for the youth of the Marengo and Union communities,” Jodi said. “Mr. Gordy Wilke, Mr. Dave Samuelson, and Mr. Larry Kunde were instrumental in creating this opportunity. What started as [one] team comprised of 11,12, and 13 year-olds has grown to seven levels of football, possibly eight this year, and a cheerleading program. Children as young as seven and eight years-old start out at the Bantam Instructional Level, she said. Ages nine through eighth grade are divided by age, weight, and skill level to make up both a Saturday Instructional and a Sun-day Competitive level for the Light Weight, Middle weight, and Heavy Weight levels.
“Our football club is a member of IYFL (Illinois Youth Football League) and follows the rules and regulations of that program,” Jodi said. Marengo Union Junior Tackle is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit club run solely on registration fees [of] $95, (the lowest by far for any football program around), successful fundraising programs, generous community support through donations and memorials, and a dedicated group of parents who volunteer not only their required time, but much more. The board of directors, as well as all coaches for our program, [are] strictly volunteers.”
The Sunday Middleweight Team’s Division Champions finished their season 7 & 1, but also advanced to the Super Bowl where they defeated the Hampshire Wild-cats 22 -16 and received the title of the 2010 IYFL Middleweight Super Bowl Champions, Jodi said.
“[We want to say] ‘thank you’ to the businesses who showed support by allowing us to paint their windows, put messages of congratulations and good luck on their business signs, or displayed our team posters,” she said. “Thank you to Marengo Fire, Marengo Rescue, and Marengo Police Departments for their escort to our Super Bowl celebration. It was something the players and the parents will never forget.
“ Stavroplos said it was, “a celebration of the town.”
Keefer said many of the children would show up an hour or so early before practice.
Jodi said they would also have “Friday Night Film” as a team and a pasta dinner.
“When you’ve got kids complaining that there’s no practice tomorrow, you know you’ve got something special,” Stavroplos said. “That was happening. The kids wanted to be there every day. They wanted to be together. Once things started rolling, we realized that it was there. They didn’t sit back. Even when they realized they were good, they started pushing harder. It was like a ‘Cinderella’ [of a] season.” Early registration was already held; however, the next registration for Marengo Union Junior Tackle Football is from 9a.m. to Noon on Saturday, May 7 at Marengo Fire Department, located at 120 East Prairie Street in Marengo. Marengo Union Junior Tackle will also be holding an “All-Area Football Camp” from June 22-25, 2011 with Johnny Knox and Major Wright of the Chicago Bears at Marengo Community High School.
For more information regarding registration, please visit www.marengojuniortackle.com, or call Rita Gara, director of registration, at 815-568-5854.