Somehow, when you blend some Colts, some Timberwolves and even a few Vikings together, you’re supposed to get a bunch of body armor-wearing Knights.
At least that’s the hope every year of the Grayslake North High School football staff.
Just call this program Lake County’s melting pot of youth football players.
Most communities in this area have their own dedicated youth tackle football programs that feed directly into their corresponding high schools. Young Blue Devils, for instance, eventually become big Blue Devils at Warren High School. Meanwhile, young Cougars become big Cougars at Vernon Hills High School, and so on.
But until now, the big Knights at Grayslake North High School never had the chance to be little Knights first.
Some have been Colts, and have worn the green and white of crosstown rival Grayslake Central High School. They even played some of their games at Grayslake Central. Others have been Timberwolves from Lake Villa, where the majority of their teammates one day play for Lakes High School. A smaller bunch started out as Vikings from the Antioch youth program.
Earlier this week, the Jr. Knights were born, giving aspiring youth football players in the area, and specifically in the Grayslake North district, another alternative, an alternative that they will be able to more closely identify with in the future.
“We’re trying to bring kids together in the community so there’s not such a drastic difference for them when they get to high school,” said Jr. Knights president Keith Horn, who has dedicated the last 14 years to coaching and organizing youth football programs in the area. “The unity that the kids experience when they come up together through the same program is what it’s all about. They help each other and support each other and really get to know each other.
“We want them to feel like they’re a part of something, like they’re building towards the same thing when they’re together on these youth teams. When those kids walk through the doors at North for the first time as freshmen, we want them to feel like the school is already their school.”
The Jr. Knights will get to know Grayslake North very well. They’ll play their games there, and they’ll practice on the grounds, too.
On Wednesday, Horn and a group of about 10 other residents who are helping to get the Jr. Knights off the ground held a community meeting to explain the program in further detail. Official registration for the Jr. Knights will take place on Feb. 23 at the Round Lake Beach Civic Center.
So far, Horn and the other board members have been busy tending to all the details, big and small: signing up for a league, dealing with insurance issues, designing a website and Facebook page, securing venues and even picking out uniforms.
“It’s been a 24-hour-a-day job over the last six weeks or so, but we’re really excited because we had a really nice turnout (at the community meeting). There were about 175 people there,” Horn said. “The reaction we’ve gotten has been pretty positive. I think people in this community want a different choice and we can give that to them.”
The varsity coaches at Grayslake North aren’t necessarily expecting all of their future players to choose the Jr. Knights this fall. They understand that some allegiances run deep with the other youth football programs in the market.
“It’s not ideal to have everyone all spread out, but our support of all the programs in the area that involve our kids will go unchanged,” said Grayslake North head coach Steve Wood. “In the past, we’ve had our varsity kids go out to the local youth programs and help with evaluations and we’ve done coaching clinics for the youth coaches. We’ve had youth night at the high school for our youth kids, and we’ve sent our own kids out to help the youth coaches at their practices.
“We still plan to be active in the community with everyone and all the programs, but we also really like the idea of creating a specific identity at the youth level for our program.”
Not only will the Jr. Knights practice and play at Grayslake North, they’ll wear the gold and black that their high school counterparts wear. They’ll also share the Knights’ logos.
The Jr. Knights, who are hoping to draw between 100 and 130 players for tackle football, will compete in the Illini Youth Football League, beginning in the fall. The organization will also include a cheer program as well as a flag football program, which is hoping to be up and running in time to compete in a spring league.
The Jr. Knights will cater to boys and girls from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“Our goal down the line is to make this the actual feeder program for Grayslake North,” Horn said. “I think you’ll see better results on the field for the high school. You already see that with other teams in the Fox Valley Conference like Cary-Grove and Prairie Ridge, which both have their own separate feeder programs. They have good varsity programs and I think that’s a big reason.”
Horn also believes that with more opportunities for playing time and better access to high school role models, kids in the community may become even more excited about playing football.
“I think we could see numbers go up,” Horn said. “It will be easier through the Jr. Knights for the younger players to be around the high school players. The younger kids will get that big brother feel and that’s a really great way to encourage kids to go out for football and stay with it.”
For more information about the Jr. Knights or the Feb. 23 registration, visit www.northjrknights.org.
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