Until they're big enough to play at the high school level, young Collingswood football players can get their reps in with the Tri-County Midget Football League.
For $125, children as young as 5 are strapping on pads and diving into playbooks for the four-month season, said Collingswood Youth Football president Bill Clark.
"We're teaching kids the basics of football," Clark said. "There's a lot of conditioning."
Despite their relative inexperience, the squads run multiple offensive and defensive looks, he said, including Pro-I, spread, and 40 and 50 fronts.
The league essentially functions as a high school sports feeder system for elementary-through-middle-school Collingswood students, said league organizer Mike McKeown.
McKeown, who is also an assistant football coach at football, credits Superintendent Scott Oswald with helping establish the program.
"Everyone else said no," McKeown said. "He was the only one who said, 'Anything for the kids.'"
Before the league got rolling, McKeown said Collingswood youth were traveling anywhere they could to get into a game.
"We had kids playing in Bellmawr, Atco, Winslow, Philadelphia," he said.
Collingswood kids aren't the only ones getting into the act, either. Nearly all the league coaches are CHS alumni, including Jeffrey Hibbs, Brett Bataloni, Anthony Israel and Bill Hancock. Organizers are optimistic that local depth will help create continuity as the young players progress into their high-school careers.
Although the Collingswood program is only in its second year, the junior (ages 10-11) and senior (ages 12-14) teams are entering the season in title defense. The coaches have high expectations for the senior team again this year, Clark said.
"We have really loaded up our skill positions," he said. "Lots of speed, good quarterbacks and running backs; the senior team has a big line."
Nearly 115 children are already enrolled in the program, and registration is open for another week or so. Donna Clark, Bill's wife, is also running a concurrent cheerleader program for $60. To enroll your child, call McKeown at 856-275-3081 or Clark at 609-405-3601.
Collingswood Youth Football will have its first games Sept. 9 at the high school. All four teams play in order of ascending age: at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
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