The East Lansing Youth Football Club (ELYFC), a nonprofit organization that dates back to the late 1950s, is ramping up for the 2023 season and is built around being much more than football for young athletes.
The program, founded by renowned Michigan State Coach Clarence “Biggie” Munn, offers tackle football teams for 6th- through 8th-grade children in the East Lansing School District.
According to ELYFC’s website, the program aims to “provide a structured atmosphere conducive to learning the game of football and to develop the youth of our community by promoting sportsmanship, teamwork, honesty, responsibility, and self-discipline through the game of football.”
“Our goal is not only to teach the fundamentals of football,” said Karry Smith, program director and coach of eight years at ELYFC, “but also to teach the kids what hard work, determination and teamwork look like. We feel like those particular pillars are not only things you need on the football field, but also in life.”
Along with other youth football programs in the country, the club has recently seen a decline in numbers, forcing them to limit their teams to 6th, 7th and 8th grades. When numbers were bigger, the program was open to 4th through 8th grades.
“The downsizing can be attributed to a lot of different factors,” Smith said. “A lot of kids kinda stayed away after COVID. We had district people that were concerned about concussions and things like that. And we’ve had a lot of kids who have just started playing other sports like field hockey, lacrosse, things like that.”
In order to combat this downsizing, program organizers are making a big push this summer to raise the numbers of East Lansing-area kids participating. They have contacted the school district, sent out email blasts and run advertisements. Registration opened June 1 and will be open until July 28 and can be done completely online.
The program is also looking for additional coaching staff in order to make the club available to as many students as possible this year.
“We’re looking for individuals who have some knowledge of the game of football,” Smith said, “But, more importantly, are enthusiastic about working with kids. That’s the most important thing.”
If interested in a coaching position, contact Smith at email@example.com.
Practice will begin around mid-August, with the first games following Labor Day, and the season lasts until the end of October.
In addition to practice and games, the kids participate in fundraising and community service activities in order to “teach them the importance of giving back,” Smith said.
During the school year, the program also focuses on the importance of academics for student athletes by implementing bi-weekly progress reports.
“We put a lot of pressure on kids to make sure that they are doing what they need to be doing in the classroom,” Smith said. “If they want to play football at the next level, in high school or at the next level in college, academics are a huge portion. At that level, if you’re not doing what you need to do academically in the classroom, you won’t be able to play on the field.”
The program itself is not able to prohibit students from playing based on their academic success, but wants kids to understand the importance of grades, as their academics can affect their playing time on the field at the high school level.
“My favorite part is just seeing the growth and development of the kids,” Smith said. “Watching their growth, even if it’s small, at least it’s growth, and seeing kids still excited about the game and wanting to learn more. That’s the thing that I really enjoy about watching these young men and young women go through this process.”