ROCHELLE — While the middle-schoolers are preparing for the upcoming Rochelle Junior Tackle season at Helms Park, the youth sports organization’s flag football players have kicked off practice at Rochelle Middle School, with the season scheduled to start on Tuesday, Aug. 6.
Over 175 players are signed up to compete in flag football this season, with each team rostering 8-to-9 players. The increased participation numbers are a positive sign for new program coordinators Dan Escatel, Chris Smith and Johnny Gonzales, who are excited to get the 2019 season underway.
“We’ve wanted to find different ways to give back to the Rochelle community,” Gonzales said. “We really enjoy watching these kids grow and learn the game of football. We get kids as young as 4 years old, and we’re always trying to help the kids get better every day. We want to build excitement so the kids continue on with the tackle football program and, eventually, the high school football program.”
The flag football program’s eight-week regular season begins this coming week, with games running from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Helms Field on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There are three divisions including the Arena League (preschoolers and kindergarteners), the Jungle League (first and second-graders) and the NFL League (third and fourth-graders).
Both the Arena and Jungle League teams will end their respective seasons after eight weeks, while the NFL League teams will have a postseason tournament culminating in a championship game at Helms Field in early October. A new change this season will bring college football team names and colors to the Jungle League, allowing players to suit up for either the Lions (Penn State), Hawkeyes (Iowa), Spartans (Michigan State), Buckeyes (Ohio State), Wolverines (Michigan), Badgers (Wisconsin), Fighting Illini (Illinois) or Wildcats (Northwestern).
“We wanted to add college football teams to the Jungle League and we think those will be fun for the kids,” Gonzales said.
Flag football teams will continue practicing at Rochelle Middle School as construction prepares to begin on the new park district community center at Helms South. Despite practices being moved from Helms Park, Gonzales said the combination of more playing space at RMS, smaller flag rosters and more volunteer coaches has made preparation for the 2019 season smooth.
“We’re really excited about our numbers this year,” Gonzales said. “Pushing the start of practices back one week allowed more parents to get their kids signed up for flag football, and we took some kids past our registration deadline because we didn’t want to say no to kids who wanted to play the sport… We have more teams with smaller numbers since we have more volunteers, and that gives all the kids more opportunities to play a lot of minutes.”