COVID-19 concerns shut down TCYFL football for 8,000 grade-schoolers
In what could be foreshadowing for the big kids, many of the little kids in the Chicago area found out this week that football in the fall will not happen.
The Chicagoland Youth Football League, which says it's America's largest independent youth football league and serves an average of 8,000 first- through eighth-graders each year, announced this week it has canceled its fall season due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, concerns that high school football in Illinois will suffer the same fate have intensified.
"It was a very sad day for me (to cancel the season)," said Geoff Meyer, the founder and president of the TCYFL, which he started in 1998. "This wasn't easy. I love tackle football. I love youth sports. I breathe it.
"This was a very tough decision. But it was the right one."
Meyer cites multiple concerns, from ensuring social distancing in a contact sport, to training volunteers to take temperatures, to securing playing fields and practice sites at park districts and high schools that may impose their own shutdowns, as factoring into his decision.
"There are all of these balls up in the air," said Meyer, a former Lake Zurich resident who now lives in Mundelein. "And the guidelines out there about this virus are all about avoiding close contact and wearing a mask and football is a close contact sport and there's no way around that.
"So on the sideline, you're supposed to be social distancing and wearing a mask? But on the field, it's different? Does the virus differentiate between the sideline and the field? If you ask 10 different people, you get 10 different answers about what to do with football. To not have proper guidelines of how to protect kids and coaches and officials is not a good situation to be in."
Meyer knows the alternative isn't a good situation either. He says he's gotten plenty of negative feedback from parents who are very disappointed that the fall season has been canceled.
TCYFL includes programs in 46 communities from Kenosha through Lake and Cook counties and as far south and west as Aurora, Batavia, Burlington, Hampshire and Huntley. There are also programs in the city of Chicago.
This would have been TCYFL's 22nd consecutive season. Last year, there were a total of 256 teams and more than 1,600 coaches involved.
TCYFL was to start a two-week conditioning program for its players at the end of July and then start full practices with pads Aug. 3, with a nine-week regular season starting at the end of August to mirror the high school season.
"A lot of our parents are really upset and can't believe the season has been canceled," said Northbrook resident Chris Prawdzik, who has run the Northshore Trevians Youth Football program, which serves Winnetka, Wilmette, Northbrook, Glenview, Northfield, Kenilworth, and Glencoe, for the last 10 years. "It's sad because I think kids and their parents were so happy to have some normalcy back in their lives with playing football again, even if there were restrictions.
"We already had 110 kids sign up and our registration had only been open for three weeks. We usually get that many kids total in a season. I've talked with other communities and they had good numbers too. I think a big part of that is that kids have been cooped up for months and they wanted something to do. This is a big bummer for them."
Prawdzik says that his organization is considering holding a flag football season to replace the tackle football season.
"It's not for sure yet, but we're thinking there would be less contact with flag football, smaller groups, we could have less practice time, which would decrease the kids' exposure to each other, we could modify the rules a bit," Prawdzik said. "We are looking at it and if we get that going, we would encourage kids to play."
Meanwhile, TCYFL will be making plans for a spring season.
"We will try to play in the spring if it is safe to do so," Meyer said. "And I'm pretty sure the IHSA will wind up doing the same thing."
A TCYFL competitor, the Bill George Youth Football League that operates teams from Arlington Heights and Palatine to Wheaton and the Western suburbs, is stating on its website that it hopes to play its 2020 season in the fall. But Meyer believes that if the Illinois High School Association cancels or delays the fall football season, all other lower-level leagues will follow suit.
"If the high schools cancel, everyone will cancel," Meyer said. "It's just a tough situation. You don't want us to shake hands after games, but the kids can go out and tackle each other and sweat all over each other? We need to have these questions answered and so far, they haven't been."