SALEM - A new youth football program is on the way in Salem which aims to unite the game at all age levels.
The Salem Youth Football League, the name of the youth program and not an actual conference, will serve as the official youth program in Salem as recognized by communities making up the Northeastern Buckeye Conference. The NBC Youth Football League recognizes one youth program per school system.
"We want this to represent the Salem community and Salem football program from kindergarten through 12th grade," Salem varsity football coach Ron Johnson said. "The direction that we want to take is a united front and a program that all participants can feel comfortable in and trust."
The new league will offer teams by grade level, bantam, third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade teams, in accordance with NBC Youth Football League rules.
The Salem Youth Football League is not a product of the school system, and will not be funded by Salem City Schools.
"We've been applying for a lot of grants, we've been planning fundraisers, and we've been working closely with the 12th man club to ensure that we have all of the proper funding," Johnson said.
The league will hold an informational meeting at 7 p.m. on April 11 in the Salem High School auditorium.
"The organization is designed to be completely transparent - Salem Youth Football is intended to serve the youth of Salem and the community," Johnson said.
The organization plans to offer free registration and free physicals to any athlete who wishes to participate.
"We're going to keep registration free, and give free physicals. We have a lot of people out there that care about Salem athletics and Salem football so we can to find a way to do that," Johnson said. "Is it going to be difficult? Certainly. But we will all work together for the betterment of the Salem Community."
Johnson stressed that he wanted to keep the organization as community based as possible.
"Anything from awards to material and coaches we want to come from our community," Johnson said. "When other teams are here all day for games, hopefully our vendors and local businesses will benefit from it.
Coaches participating with the Salem Youth Football League will now be required to pass a background check in addition to becoming certified by USA Football in areas including: concussion awareness, fundamentals of safety, injury prevention, proper equipment fitting, physical conditioning, hydration and heat preparedness.
"We have one program and all of the effort and energy can go into one organization," Johnson said. "We can get all of the coaching and teaching and clinics done from our staff to our junior high staff and down to our youth leagues to make sure we are all on the same page in building a program."
Johnson also said that any athlete that is competing in the Salem Youth Football League will be given a weekly academic scorecard. The cards will be handed out after the games on the weekend and will need to be returned to their coaches by the following Thursday.
"We want to instill an attitude that, 'Yeah I get good grades, I'm a football player,'" Johnson said. "We want them to understand that we want them doing what they are supposed to do in the classroom, in the hallways and in the community."
Registration for the league will take place online through the NBC's Youth Football League registration site at www.nbcyfl.com. Registration will be available from April 11th to August 8th.
The organization will offer a quarterback camp, taking place on every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month of May. Johnson said many of his varsity coaches and players will help with the participants in the quarterback camp and also during a youth skills camp held on August 7th.
"We want our varsity kids to be very involved with our youth league, and vice versa. We want the youth league out there making the tunnel when we run out. The accountability goes both ways," Johnson said. "The little kids are going to behave because that's their hero out there, and the heroes are going to behave because the little kids are watching and they better be on their best behavior.
Johnson encouraged anyone that wishes to be involved with the Salem Youth Football League to do so.
"We want anyone that wants to be a part of helping our kids learn football," Johnson said. "You don't have to be Knute Rockne, you just have to be a person of high character that wants to be a positive role model for a young person."
The Salem Youth Football League will also take advantage of the school district's facilities. Previous games have been held at Memorial Park, but the new organization plans to have its' games played at Southeast Elementary and Reilly Stadium and work as closely as possible with the league and other teams.
"It's going to be a first class operation that works in unison with the NBC, and have a good relationship with everyone involved," Johnson said. "It's been a long time coming and it just helps develop a whole community program that we want to be about."