15 years ago, elementary school-aged kids in Chanute had no opportunity to participate in organized tackle football games. Flag football was played in some local leagues, but young players didn’t learn to properly block or tackle until they were in eighth grade.
Since other cities in the region did have youth tackle football programs, this affected the ability of the local high school football team to properly compete.  Blue Comet players would be matched up against athletes who had a lot more experience in the fundamentals of football than local players. This limited Chanute’s chances for postseason success.
It is what inspired a group of concerned citizens to come together in 1999 and create the Chanute Youth Football Club. Kent Frazell was the head football coach at the high school at the time, and this group initially met in his garage to kick ideas around on how to get local kids more prepared to play the sport. There, attendees like Clete Hudson, Don Haight, Sonny Manley, Wes Audiss, Mike Martin, John Guiot, and Frazell put together a plan for the Chanute Youth Football Club.
The club was set up with the goal of giving every kid in the community the opportunity to play tackle football.
“There’s nothing else like it,” Guiot said.
He pointed out that more conversations around the community and at events like high school reunions revolve around football than any other high school sport.
The Chanute Youth Football Club has been going strong ever since that initial meeting, starting a tradition of excellence in Blue Comet football.  
“Since we started, Chanute High School football has had the most kids out for football in all of southeast Kansas,” Guiot said.
The club is hosting its annual sign-up and equipment checkout event in Chanute’s Central Park  at 6:30 p.m. on the evening of August 19. It has been instrumental in the Blue Comets’ recent track record of success in Districts and postseason play. Dedicated head coaches like Don Simmons and Jason Feeback get much of the credit for these postseason wins and resulting honors, but the local youth football club has given them a firm foundation to work from.
“Those were all kids that went through our program,” Guiot said, “like Quinton Schooley.”
Schooley, who will be starting on the offensive line for North Carolina State’s football team this season, was the first player that came up through CYFC  to start for a Division One college football team. The CHS alum said that the local youth football program provided him with a good foundation to accomplish this goal.
“The technique I learned back then still applies today when I play,” Schooley said. “Things like playing low and keeping a good base, or keeping my head up to avoid injury.”
Another thing Schooley liked about the program was the coaches, who he said were all enthusiastic about the game. This made it fun for Schooley and his teammates.
“I still remember my first year ever playing,” Schooley said.  “I was in third grade and I had JR Martinez as an OL coach and the great thing was that he was always positive and encouraging. There is no sport as great as football and I learned that at an early age in the CYFC.”
Guiot was part of the coaching staff in Schooley’s first year of playing. He noted that other recent Shrine Bowl-qualifying players from the area like Trey Ellis and Cody Howell initially learned the basics of football by playing in the CYFC.
 

CYFC vets

A high percentage of the players on this upcoming season’s Blue Comet football squads also came up through the CYFC program, a fact that isn’t lost on Coach Feeback.
“I know a lot of our kids played youth football, and they all have a story,” Feeback said. “It’s cool. You can tell that a lot of our kids had a really  good experience with that, and always talk about how their team was stacked or who was a stud back then. It’s just fun to listen to their stories about some of their youth coaches, who used to coach them up, and just to see that a lot of their parents are still involved in these programs.”
Feeback also noted that the positive impact on a players’ life that can be added by youth coaches.  
Guiot said that Feeback has been “incredible” when it comes to helping to run the CYFC camp every year and at starting a clinic this year for the club’s coaches.
“He had all of his assistant coaches come in and talk to all of the youth coaches about how they do things,” Guiot said, “and we’re all now trying to implement his vocabulary and his plays. Kids are learning them now, so when they get up to middle school, they’ll know it and in high school, they’ll really know it.”
Feeback explained that the community has a great middle school football program with coaches that always do a great job.
“Really, what we’re trying to do is get uniforms from our 12th grade down through elementary school grades,” Feeback said.
This was his goal in getting together with the youth coaches.
“It was really good,” Feeback said. “They asked a lot of good questions and they were really interested and really want to try to run what we’re doing. Fourth graders can’t really run what we run sometimes, but they’re making an attempt to do what we’re doing. I think that helps the whole thing.”
He got the idea for this from reading a newspaper article about the football program in Louisburg, about how youth football in that town runs exactly the same plays as high school football. The article noted that youth players could sit in the stands and call out plays that the high school team just ran.
Feeback wanted to see something similar happen here in Chanute.
 

Learning early

“The young group, they just run a 4-4 defense,” Feeback said, “but the older group is running more of a 5-2, like we’re going to run.”
Feeback understands the importance of starting off with something simple and eventually using that to give kids a little more complex understanding of the game.
“Everyone’s progressing, and they’re making sure they’re keeping an eye on the younger kids,” Feeback said. “And all those coaches, they’ve got a lot of passion for kids and for football. I wouldn’t support it if I didn’t think the guys were top-notch, and they are. They do a great job.”
The fall season is obviously busy for the local football coach, but Feeback has been to a few of the local youth football games in the last couple of years. His son, Brennan, played youth football with the CYFC.
“It’s been a good experience,” Feeback said, “and I see kids all the time that remember me from that league. It’s a reminder of the difference we can make just from youth football.”
One of the messages sent by Guiot, coaches and those that organize this league is that players should aim to keep playing.
“By that I mean, we try to emphasize that it’s fun,” Guiot said. “Of course, it’s football. Testosterone flows, but for the most part we’ve had success at having the same group of kids go through every year.”
One thing that is being done to encourage this is the creation of a Chanute Youth Football Hall of Fame that honors players that play consistently from third grade through middle school and high school.
“It’s about a lot of these kids just getting involved and having fun, even if they’re not very good,” Feeback said, “because not all of the kids are going to be good. They’re still learning the game, but if they’re going to have fun, they’re going to keep playing.”
Making sure that players are having fun and changing up practices enough to guarantee this are themes that Feeback stressed to coaches when he met with them.
 

The football club

The football club does take some second graders that are mature enough and athletic enough to handle the rigors of playing football, but most players start playing for CYFC in third grade.  The club consists of two leagues; the Jayhawk Division for third-fourth grade and the Wildcat Division for fifth-sixth graders. The club strives to keep four teams going in each league, and talented players are evenly distributed among these teams.
One goal for these teams is to give every kid a chance to play, and keeping the teams roughly even in terms of talent and ability better allows for that to occur.
CYFC does have weight limits in who is allowed to run the ball. In the younger group, that is 100 pounds. 125 pounds is the ball-running limit for the older group.
“We don’t want a 135-pound kid running the ball with a 50-pound kid trying to tackle him,” Guiot said, “because the outcome won’t be good.”
At any given time, the club is giving anywhere from 80-140 local kids the chance to play tackle football. The league has had one girl play, but Guiot said that girls are invited to play if they want to.
When it comes to keeping these young athletes safe, the league does carry liability insurance and teaches “Heads-up” football techniques. 
Guiot explained that it was vitally important to teach the right tacking techniques and that starts with telling players to keep their heads up, so they can see what they hit.
“Head up, wrap up, speed up” is the tackling technique that Feeback teaches at the high school, and this has been adopted by the youth football club.
“It all starts with keeping your head up, because if you go in with your head down, nothing good is going to happen to you,” Guiot said. “It could be serious, so that’s what we really emphasize.”
Plus, there is always qualified medical personnel present at the Youth Football Club’s games to assist with any issues or problems.
“It’s not as dangerous as some mamas think it is,” Guiot said. “It’s safe. Honestly, there are some hits, but these are kids. It’s safe, and it’s fun.”
Feeback is glad that kids in Chanute learn these safe tacking techniques so early.
“Then, learning blocking and just the skills of the game, you can teach a lot of fundamentals through youth football,” Feeback said.
Signing up the league costs $60, but there are scholarships available. Guiot emphasized that this was the least expensive youth football program that he had heard of in the nation.
“I guarantee it,” Guiot said. “If you go up to Kansas City, you’ve got to pay $250. Down in Oklahoma, these cost up to $600. Here, all you’ve got to pay is $60.”
For this price, the league provides helmets, shoulder pads, knee pads, mouth pieces, uniforms, everything for players except for cleats. This equipment can be checked out at the CYFC’s registration event on Tuesday, August 19 at 6:30 p.m. at Chanute’s Central Park Pavilion.
For more information on the CYFC, contact:
Brad Almond  (620)- 433-2009   John Guiot  (620) -433-0269   Justin Bancroft (620)-433-2945

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