CHAMPAIGN — It should have been a 60th birthday celebration for the Central Illinois Youth Football League.
Instead, area kids in third through eighth grades this year are unlikely to have what’s been a staple of physical activity for more than half a century.
CIYFL officials on Wednesday night voted to cancel the organization’s upcoming campaign, with league president Bill Harmon citing uncertainty pertaining to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as the reason.
The CIYFL’s 60th season may still occur in spring 2021, Harmon told The News-Gazette, as team representatives have been asked to survey associated parents on the topic for an August vote.
As of now, though, there will be no CIYFL action in Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul, St. Joseph or Danville this school year following Wednesday’s unanimous board of directors vote.
“It’s just devastating,” said Harmon, who also is Urbana High School’s softball coach. “Nobody wanted to make this decision, but when you make a big decision … you get out your yellow pen and put pros on the left, cons on the right. The only pro we had was the kids need something (to do during the pandemic). There were too many cons on the other side of the ledger to make things work.”
The CIYFL’s choice preceded both IHSA and IESA decisions on their respective fall activities. Harmon said Tuesday’s news that the IHSA would defer to state health departments and the governor’s office regarding future IHSA “Return To Play” mandates also hurt the CIYFL’s chances of running a season as usual.
The league already was facing several barriers anyway.
Harmon said officials had been told their championship game would not occur inside the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium, as it typically does. The university on Wednesday announced restrictions to the Illini football gameday experience, including Memorial Stadium only being filled to 20 percent of capacity.
Additionally, Harmon said Champaign-Urbana park districts and school districts were not permitting the CIYFL to use their facilities.
“If you can’t practice, then you shouldn’t be playing,” Harmon said. “It’s possible park districts will trend (toward allowing activities), but we didn’t want to take any more time away from a kid that had an opportunity.”
An opportunity, Harmon said, such as playing a sport in a nearby state with looser pandemic restrictions, or competing on some sort of travel team.
“We wanted to make the decision (Wednesday),” Harmon said, “and release it so the kids, if they have an opportunity, they can take it.”
Harmon, who has been the CIYFL president since 2012, said another idea thrown out in addition to a spring season was contesting a fall campaign under flag football rules.
“But, again, if somebody would test positive it would take out an entire team for at least two weeks,” Harmon said.
And the field of kids applying likely would’ve been smaller than usual, Harmon said, because of the pandemic.
Harmon said 75 kids were signed up from Champaign-Urbana, though he acknowledged parents of others may have been waiting for the CIYFL to make a decision on the fate of its season before committing their kids.
According to the 2019 rosters listed on the CIYFL website, 16 teams fielded a total of 354 kids, with six teams from Danville, three teams apiece from Champaign and Urbana and two teams apiece from Rantoul and St. Joseph.
Another concern, Harmon said, involved gathering-related restrictions at games.
With a current mandate from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker limiting event attendance to 50 people, Harmon said parents would be excluded from being at matchups.
“Football being the sport it is, you hate to have somebody get hurt and not have a parent there,” Harmon said. “We’ve had stuff happen in the past, and the folks at Carle always told us, ‘Parents trump anything.’”
Harmon said he struggles to see how many other levels of football will operate in the fall, given the concerns he and the rest of the CIYFL Board of Directors have about their own product.
“You can’t play football without having contact,” Harmon said. “With the guidelines, the football would have to be sanitized after every touch. Uniforms would have to be sanitized. Football is just a great big problem with the contact part.”