Youth football and cheer leaders say they couldn’t have asked for a better first year after the merger of two local organizations.
H-F United formed after the Homewood-Flossmoor Junior Vikings and Homewood-Flossmoor Kings combined forces last spring. The result was a successful season of both football and cheerleading competition to begin what the group believes is an upward trajectory.
“Both groups were still able to do everything we wanted (separately) but what the merger did was give us a united front. We put our resources together to give the community a better look,” organization President Martez Harding said. “There was an adjustment period, just with some communication, but for the most part I felt like we had a very successful season.”
The football teams compete in the River Valley Youth Football League. The Junior Varsity went 9-1 and advanced to the playoff semifinals. A penalty at the goal line in the final seconds ended their season in the second round.
The Varsity was 8-3 and made the league Super Bowl. The varsity level WNFL Developmental team also advanced to the league Super Bowl.
“The younger levels, they’re still in that development mode but they did pretty well,” Harding said. “Winning is just a part of what we do, but developing the kids (is the bigger goal). Teaching them how to get through certain problems or showing them discipline, teaching them about ways to understand their abilities and boost their confidence.”
One big help for the inaugural season was a grant from the Retired Professional Football Players of Chicago that provided funding for equipment, shirts for coaches, a generator and even a warmer for concessions.
“That was absolutely huge,” Harding said. “Things like that just help us build a better program. It was just a great thing overall. It really helped with the cost of running the organization.”
Learning the game is certainly a part of what United does. Some parents are hesitant to allow their children to play football, fearful of injuries. Harding said coaches teach kids “heads up tackling,” using rugby techniques that minimize those issues.
Harding said he’s not seeing any decline in the sport. He estimates that 85% of the teams in the River Valley have so many kids that they have to split and form multiple teams.
“Once people come out and see how we teach and see how our league is, they understand (safety is a priority),” Harding said. “We had to start a waiting list (last year). Of course, you have some parents who have concerns, but it’s nothing that I believe is hurting the programs.”
All coaches teaching those techniques are volunteers. Having more around through the merger helped stave off burnout, Harding said.
“We just put our heads together to create something stronger,” he said.
The competitive cheerleading team was strong, as well, as part of the American Youth Cheerleading Association. Teams at the 8u, 10u, and 14u levels earned state, regional and national recognition. The 8u and 14u teams made the trip to the AYC national competition in Orlando.
“Competition brings out things in kids so we want to push that. It teaches them how to work better as a team,” Harding said. “It’s all one big ball of happiness once we get it going.”
Numbers were good, too. H-F United had over 200 football players, almost 80 cheerleaders and over 40 coaches. The hope is to have enough registered before June to be able to split and field teams in different levels or multiple teams in any group.
Registration for both football and cheer is open at hf-united.org. Eligible kids are between six and 14. The group is looking for football and cheer coaches, volunteers and mentors.