ROCHELLE — For many young athletes in the Hub City, building the foundational skills and excitement for the sport of football takes place long before players suit up for tackle football at the elementary and middle-school levels. While preschoolers through fourth-graders may be too young for the pads and helmets of tackle football, Rochelle Junior Tackle’s flag football program allows those kids to enjoy the game while learning the importance of teamwork.
Roughly 175 players have signed up to participate in the RJT flag football program this fall. After not having the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, RJT Flag Coordinator Johnny Gonzales said both players and coaches are excited to be back playing football once again.
“The kids are excited to be playing sports again and we’re happy for the parents who can watch their kids play sports again,” Gonzales said. “There’s a sense of normalcy and it feels right to see a lot of happy faces out there. I think we’re going to have a normal season and I don’t see us facing many issues at the moment. We’re going to take everything one day at a time and we’ll make any adjustments when they’re needed. I feel like we can get a full season in this year.”
The RJT flag football program features three leagues including the Arena League for preschoolers and kindergarteners, the Jungle League for first and second-graders as well as the NFL League for third and fourth-graders. Arena League and Jungle League games will take place Tuesday evenings at Helms Park beginning Aug. 10, while NFL League games are scheduled for Wednesday evenings beginning Aug. 11. Games will span over a period of eight weeks.
“We’re always looking to grow our numbers,” Gonzales said. “The main thing for us when we talk with our coaches is that we want the kids to have fun and enjoy themselves. I think the kids who start flag football at a young age enjoy it more with each year they come back. We have our end-of-the-season tournament for the NFL League so our older kids have a more competitive tournament to look forward to before they begin playing tackle football.”
The Arena League and Jungle League will each feature six teams, while the NFL League will field eight teams this fall. The flag football program’s final games and celebration will take place on Sept. 28 and 29, with the RJT banquet scheduled for Oct. 14. Gonzales and fellow RJT Flag Coordinator Dan Escatel have been working hard to prepare for the upcoming season.