Giving kids a choice where to play football in eighth grade has changed the playing field here in Janesville.
This fall marked the first time that incoming eighth-graders at Edison, Franklin and Marshall middle schools had the option of playing on a Janesville Youth Football traveling team and not for the school they are attending.
Marshall was hit hardest by JYF’s hands-on approach of giving kids an option of playing a six-game schedule as part of the Dane County Youth League.
Marshall athletic director Tom Imhoff said normally the eighth-grade team has about 60 kids out. That number was reduced to 30 this year and forced the school to allow seventh-graders to play, as well.
Edison and Franklin did not feel the effects nearly as much. Edison lost three eighth-graders to the JYF program, and Franklin just two. Both schools also allowed seventh-graders—and at Franklin, sixth-graders—the chance to play.
“I think what JYF did was fairly significant as far as our numbers being down, but I also think other kids just simply lost interest in playing football for whatever reason,” Imhoff said.
“JYF is a great feeder program for third- through seventh-graders, but I still believe the middle schools do a great job of getting kids ready to play high school football. We have great coaching, offer two teams, the cost is less and we practice five days a week until we start playing games. All of that is not available in the JYF program.”
Trever Brandenburg is the JYF president. He said adding an eighth-grade team to the program was a no-brainer because it makes JYF the “true” feeder program for Craig and Parker, because it now encompasses grades 3-8. Brandenburg also says the competition level in the Dane County League far exceeds what the Janesville middle school teams see during the season.
“I think before this year, Janesville lagged too far behind the other schools in the Big Eight as far as football goes at the seventh- and eighth-grade level,” Brandenburg said.”Our board felt like we were behind the eight ball when it came to the other schools at the high school level because the Janesville kids didn’t know the schemes that were being run at Craig and Parker.
“You should know those like the back of your hand so that when they step on the practice field for the first time as freshmen, you didn’t have to be taught everything. That’s something that we will do starting from a scaled-down form in third grade, before gradually adding in new things for each grade.
“And the other thing that we felt we were behind the eight ball on was by not playing a higher level of competition. In the Dane County League, we’re playing teams like Sun Prairie, Middleton and DeForest. That’s a big step up as far as we’re concerned and is certainly going to better prepare our kids for playing at the next level.”
Brandenburg hopes that within a couple years, JYF will have two eighth-grade teams—one from the east side of Janesville and one from the west side. This year’s eighth-grade JYF team had 31 players on the roster. A total of 62 seventh-graders played on two teams for JYF.
It costs $110 to play in the JYF program. Those fees can be waived based on ability to pay.
The middle school cost is $60. If a student is a part of the reduced-lunch program, the cost is $12, and its free for those enrolled in the free-lunch program.
Jameson Pajerski is the athletic director and coach of the heavyweight football team at Franklin. He’s opposed to JYF’s involvement in eighth-grade football.
“There’s no reason we can’t maintain what has worked for so long in our own schools,” Pajerski said. “We’ve had those kids in school for three years and have formed great relationships with them both as teachers and as a coaches.
“I just think it’s in the best interest of our lightweight and heavyweight kids that they’re allowed to play on teams with kids their own size, and I think the downtown office agrees with that. And I think the parents of our kids understand that, too. We had a meeting before the season with players and parents, and all but four of our kids decided to stay with our program. Four went to JYF, but two of those came back and played for us.”
The middle schools had six teams this season between Janesville and Beloit. Franklin and Marshall both had lightweight and heavyweight teams. Beloit had one team, and Edison had one lightweight team.
Time will tell if JYF’s decision to add an eighth-grade program and have the seventh-grade teams play in the Dane County League pays off. Dividends at the high school level, if any, won’t be known for probably four or five years.
One thing is certain: The landscape has changed.