A loss by the Tri-County Sand Devils Saturday did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm and excitement generated by a much greater victory: Organized football is now a reality for area students.
The newest franchise of the Central Illinois Junior Football League took to the gridiron this autumn. They played their first home game Saturday at West Park in San Jose.
No one takes more satisfaction in seeing goal posts erected at San Jose than Bill Wiemer. The pharmacy owner and long-time Illini Central school board member has been looking for a way to bring football to area communities for years. He now serves as Director of the 28th area of the JFL of Central Illinois–the Sand Devils.
The CIJFL has been operating since 1967, and now fields over 3800 youth players every year. They have certification for coaches, and an organizational structure that emphasizes a commitment to character development and high standards for safety.
“It started when I contacted Mike Hieber, the director of the Central Illinois Junior Football League,” says Wiemer. “Jeremy Brockhouse, Jeff Thomas, and I met with him and an associate at the Steak N’ Shake in Morton. They bought lunch and we had a long talk. They were very encouraging.”
Once the commitment was made to establish a new JFL “area,” as they are called, there was much work to do. Paperwork was filled out. Funds and volunteers were solicited. The San Jose Park District got to work on the field. Coaches were recruited, players were invited to sign up, and a training schedule was instituted.
The CIJFL helped with support and equipment. Safety is a top concern. Rules are in place addressing the unique concerns of young players in a contact sport. “For example,” Wiemer says, “we have weight limits for skilled positions, which cuts the chance of injury. We also use a lot of safety equipment–we have the best helmets money can buy.”
September 7 was the Sand Devils’ home field opener. A good crowd turned out, spread out across the hill overlooking the field and clearly enjoying the game.
How do the kids feel about this new endeavor? Jayden Flores of San Jose and Diego Rivera of Mason City offered their thoughts:
“I like it because we actually get to run and tackle,” Jayden says.
“It’s getting me in shape,” says Diego, who would later make a mid-field tackle that may have prevented a touchdown by the opposing Springfield Packers.
“I’ve been thinking about football for years,” Wiemer says. “There’s something about seeing a pair of goal posts in a community…. If I’m looking for a place to raise a family, I’d pick a town with football.
“It’s about the kids. I really would like them to be scholars in addition to players. These kids aren’t just out there to play a game, but to be better citizens. For some of them, the coach may be the only male role model they have.”
Wiemer’s son, Tom, played in a CIJFL league when he was younger. He is serving this year as coach of the senior Sand Devils team before heading off to Concordia University next year. He is one of several area residents who stepped up to take the training and volunteer as coaches.
Football is in the air. You got to love it!
TRI-COUNTY SAND DEVILS: THE LOGISTICS
Mason, Logan, and Tazewell county children are eligible to play on the Sand Devils. There are other teams within the tri-county area, so most Sand Devil players are mainly from the Illini Central, Delevan, and Midwest Central school districts. There is no school affiliation. Yes, girl players are welcome.
The Sand Devil colors are red and black. There are 4 teams to accommodate children ages 8 to 14: a flag team, a pee wee team, junior varsity, and varsity.
The number of enrollees is not limited. If enrollment (it closes in August) is high, another team can be established.
The cost per player is $80 per year, however the team doesn’t want money to be an issue and maintains a fund for scholarships. Uniforms and gear are supplied.
The season runs September through October. Sand Devil home games are at San Jose West Park Field on route 136. Games are played on weekends. Players who have scheduling conflicts with school-based activities are excused.
Officiating is done by volunteer high school referees. Coaches are certified community members. The Tri-County Football League is a non-profit organization and there are no paid personnel.
There is no cost to attend Central Illinois JFL games, however donations are accepted. The Sand Devils are solely supported by donations and player fees. The Sand Devils are able to take advantage of the JFL’s non-profit status, so donations are tax-deductible.
For more information on the Tri-County Sand Devils, visit the website at tricountyjfl.com. Become a fan!