It’s official. The youth football partnership between Blaine and Spring Lake Park is turning a page.
Gone is the jointly-ran Blaine Spring Lake Park Athletic Association youth football program in favor of separate Blaine and Spring Lake Park programs, effective immediately.
The two organizations plan to collaborate whenever possible and the year-end Super Bowl Sunday tournament will continue to crown an all-area champion at the various age levels. This year’s tournament is slated for Oct. 26, but the venue remains in the air. Panthers Stadium or Bengals Stadium will host the all-day event.
The move to create separate administrative boards was a result of the successful growth among both programs, but more specifically the Spring Lake Park side.
Spring Lake Park Youth Football Association president Phil Richard said the move speaks to the success in numbers. Spring Lake Park participants rose from 10 percent to 35 percent in recent years to help make the case that they are ready to stand alone.
“It was a collaborative dismantling and most of the people running programs now were in place with the combined program,” Richard said.
Jeff Schleiff, head varsity football coach at Spring Lake Park High School, said the move was, “really a no-brainer to split. Both became big enough to run their own board [of directors] and now is the time to make the move.”
Spring Lake Park anticipates 250 kids willenroll in programs from kindergarten through sixth grade, while seventh- and eighth-graders will continue through the programs offered through the middle school.
On the Blaine side, the number reaches 550 kids in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Blaine Youth Football Association President Ken Downey said the biggest challenge from the separation comes from filling the voids left by former members on the Spring Lake Park side.
“We haven’t had many serious challenges because we have a great group of people elected to the first board,” Downey said. “But assigning tasks from the previous years and getting new people in place to work the systems has been our biggest challenge.”
The fact that Spring Lake Park joins Blaine in the Northwest Suburban Conference weighed very little on the decision. Both communities hope the move will create more involvement from the high school programs.
“This is a great sign of success and it speaks volumes for our community and there on bad feelings. This is based upon growth and creating more competitive and equitable opportunities for the future,” Spring Lake Park Activities Director Matt St. Martin said. “From the partnership aspect, we want to be able to create a link between the youth and high school programs.”
Both youth programs have welcomed the varsity head coach to board meetings.
Another idea, proposed by Richard, to help bridge the gap between the youth and high school is to assign varsity players to youth teams to serve as a mentor or to help at a few practices or games.
“Anytime you can get the high school staff involved with the program, there is a benefit from both sides,” Downey said.
Before the split, coaches seemed reluctant to help because there wasn’t one common goal to help their school in a joint program, he said.
Both programs offer flag football for kindergarten and first-graders ,then tackle football grouped by grades through sixth or eighth grade, depending on the program.
Blaine and Spring Lake Park organize separate youth sports groups already with the exception of baseball and volleyball.
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