Van Buren Middle School, built in 1949, is the oldest Kettering school, excluding the Barnes building that is now used for administrative offices. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

Kettering youth football league reverses course after cancelling season

League works with city of Kettering, and season is back on

Things change fast in the sports world these days. The coronavirus pandemic has created so much uncertainty.

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A good example of that is what happened to the Kettering Youth Football and Cheer Organization in a 24-hour period. After announcing Thursday night it was canceling the 2020 season, the league changed course on Friday after getting in touch with the city of Kettering and working out some kinks. Just like that, the season was back on.

“We basically will meet with them and school officials to mark out zones on the city park and school property to allow for enough room to follow guidelines and not limit to as few people as we though,” league president Jarod Tipton said. “We will also change the way we enter and exit the parks and facilities. They are now willing to work with us on a solution and help to write specific guidelines for our youth program to follow until the governor releases the state’s guidelines for contact sports.”

Earlier in the day, as of Friday afternoon, 267 people had signed a petition titled “Let the Firebirds play” on Change.org. The petition urged the league to change its mind.

Prior to announcing the league wouldn’t cancel the season, Tipton had said the board would reconsider its decision only if it saw guidelines from the state in the next week or so regarding contact sports and those guidelines make it clear there could be football. For now, the state has said the “safety protocols for high-contact sports are in development.”

“As of right now, the only guidelines that have been given to us are the guidelines for non-contact sports,” Tipton said. “The governor hasn’t passed down guidelines for full-contact sports, which could be anything. We could only guess what those guidelines can be. They may be that we can’t have contact sports. We don’t know.”

The big issue the league had was with the limits on gatherings. Indoors and outdoors, there can only be gatherings of 50 people, Tipton said. When the league has all its teams and cheerleaders playing or practicing at the same time, there can be as many as 900 people at the fields in Kettering, said Tipton and Gregg Wear, the league’s vice president and athletic director of football.

“If we’re playing a game of football and averaging 20 players per team plus five to seven coaches, we’ve reached our mass gathering point before a single parent shows up to watch their kid,” Tipton said.

Instead of waiting until July to make a decision, the league decided to act Thursday so parents would have an opportunity to sign their kids up with other organizations that may decide to play.

In the meantime, before learning of the league's reversal of course, parents were deciding what to do and what to tell their kids. Matthew Schutt, whose son Christopher played for the sixth-grade team last season and whose son Hunter was planning to play for the third-grade team this year, said Hunter was disappointed.

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“Based on how the last two or three months have gone, he’s not surprised,” Schutt said. “We’re probably going to end up playing with a different league. It’s just a matter of them not being able to play with their friends.”

Another parent, Amber Chambers, whose son Kaiden Oakes was going to play for the fifth-grade team, said, “It’s just too much. These kids got kicked out of school (because of the COVID-19 crisis). They’ve gone through several history-making situations. You can go to a theater or jump at a trampoline park or do indoor sports, but you can’t let your kids take out agression (on the football field)?”

Other parents were supportive of the league's intial decision to cancel the season.

“I had a double-lung transplant in January this year so I know how dangerous this Covid is,” said Nikkie Stump Foster, who has been involved with the league for 11 years. “Most have no idea and just say it will go away. The top priority is the safety of the kids and everyone involved. It absolutely devastates me that this all happened, but it is what it is. Now we just have to deal with the hand we were dealt.”

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In previous years, the KYFCO has offered football and cheerleading for kids from the first through sixth grades. Practice would have started July 20 for football players and July 21 for cheerleaders, according to the league website, and the first regular-season games would have been held Aug. 15-16.

Teams compete in the Western Ohio Junior Football Conference, which has teams from Fairborn, Meadowdale, Miamisburg, Springfield, Vandalia, Wayne, West Carrollton and Wilmington.

Tipton, Wear and vice president of operations Andrew Coors followed the initial Facebook post, which announced the cancellation, with a second message telling parents they would meet them at the Kettering Middle School field at 2 p.m. Saturday to answer questions in persons.

“We are currently working on options for our families to have playing options in other districts,” their Facebook post read. “Please wait on make a decision until we know if Kettering as a whole can utilize other districts to play under our club’s name or if we would have to spread through these communities on a individual basis. Each league and conference have bylaws in place that would have to be amended.”

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