The East Toledo Junior Football League for student-athletes age 8-14, kicks off its sixth decade of play in September.
“Our motto is Œducation through sports since 1948,” said Mike Smith, who is in his third year as ETJFL president. “You've got to get your education first before you're an athlete, and that's what we try to emphasize."
Smith's son Tony, 12, will be a seventh-grader this fall and plans to play in the ETJFL, which has seven teams with anywhere from 20-50 boys and girls per team.
Youths are eligible to play if they turn 8 before Aug. 1 as long as he or she is academically eligible. Participating elementary schools are Birmingham, East Side Central, Franklin, Garfield, Navarre, Oakdale, and Raymer.
All of the league officers, coaches and cheerleading advisors are volunteers, and every coach must be certified by the National Youth Sports Coaches Association.
Each team receives an equal amount of money from the league, which goes toward equipment.
"We get our money from the gate money at Waite Stadium, where we play most of our games,” Smith said. “We get Waite's 50-50 raffle at their home games and they also donate the actual game ball that night and let us raffle that off."
Sign-ups for the 2008 season began July 14, with practices beginning shortly after that.
The ETJFL¹s longest-tenured coach is Greg Mauder, who has coached the Raymer Rams for 17 years.
"They do it for the kids, to keep the kids off the street and give them something to do,” Smith said. “They do it because they like it. A lot of them played football in high school and they want to coach the little kids.
“Our league was designed as a feeder program for Waite High School. It’s basically East-siders - no kids from the North or West side.” The ETJFL began in 1948 and has been a tradition on this end of town ever since.
"A lot of people my parents knew were coaches,” said Smith, who started off as a game announcer for the league. The East Side community, we're a tight-knit group over here. A lot of the coaches and volunteers want these kids to stay off the streets and stay out of trouble. We want to push them over to Waite High School."
There is no fee to join a team save for minor expenses for an athletic supporter or a pair of cleats. However, Smith said most of the coaches have used cleats for the kids to wear, or the league can buy the player cleats.
The league provides physicals, performed by a Waite graduate, for free.
Each team has its own banquet at the end of the season and players are awarded trophies and ribbons. Each team has its own cheerleading squad.
The first Saturday of games is Sept. 6, with each team playing a six-game schedule. There are two weeks of tournaments and an all-star championship game at the end of the season, at night at Mollenkopf Stadium.
The ETJFL is divided into two divisions - the Minor Division, for grades 3-5, and the Major Division, for grades 6-8.
The Minor Division plays for the Max Reddish Trophy. Raymer is the defending league and tournament champ.
The Major Division plays for the Earl Cousino Cup, which has been around since 1972. Raymer is the defending league champ and Birmingham is the tournament champion.
Smith stressed that the league is all about fun and learning the fundamentals of football.
Smith also asked that parents temper their enthusiasm during games, and to just let the players have a good time learning the sport.
"A lot of people forget these are children playing the game,” Smith said. “The league wants the fans to support them and not criticize them. We have a lot of people come watch our games and they're yelling and screaming. They're just third- and fourth- and fifth-graders and just learning how to play. A lot of people think football is it, and we're trying to teach the kids to take the wins with the losses and the bad stuff with the good stuff.”
For more information on the ETJFL contact Smith at 419-392-4925. Players have until the week of Sept. 13 to sign up and must sign up in the school district in which they live.