White Division all-star Ryan Smith tackles the Black Division's James Coffey while Sonny Fredrickson stands his ground, at right, during the East Toledo Junior Football League championship game.
Mike Smith and Tom Burden participated in the East Toledo Junior Football League when they were youngsters and now they are coaches in the organization.
It is the commitment of East Toledo residents such as Smith and Burden that has allowed the nonprofit, all-volunteer football league to celebrate six decades of supporting youths through football. The East Toledo Junior Football League celebrated its 60th anniversary this fall.
Smith, who has been involved with the league for 13 years, said his initial involvement was as a player in the 1970s.
"I started out as a player, and now it's just about giving back to the community and the kids," he said.
Smith, who is the president of the league, said the organization has many benefits. He said it serves as a feeder system to the Waite High School football program. But it also encourages academic growth and good citizenship.
"Our motto is 'Education through sports,' " Smith said. "It means that they have to have a good GPA to be eligible to play. The schools commend us on that. They think that it is great that we are mixing education with sports."
Smith's 12-year-old son, Tony, plays for the Oakdale Elementary team. He said he hopes the league provides his son with the same guidance that it did for him.
"It kept me out of trouble and off the streets," Smith said. "It taught me discipline and respect."
Burden also played in the league when he moved to East Toledo in 1974 when he was in the eighth grade. Burden is a coach and said all four of his sons also participated in the league.
"I'm so glad it is still here," Burden said. "My kids would not have played football if it weren't for this league. They learned how to behave and do their school work. They got used to keeping their grades up."
Burden said two of his sons went on to play at Waite.
"I like giving back," Burden said. "If some other coach gave up his time for me when I was young, I'm more than willing to give my time."
Kristel Frybarger, who is the league's vice president, said it was established in 1948. She said no coach or board member is paid.
"We have fund-raising events," Frybarger said. "We do this for the community and for our kids. We are a totally nonprofit organization."
She said the league also is not "pay to play."
"All equipment is supplied to our kids for free except for cleats, cups, and mouthpieces. And most of the time the coaches will supply that if a child is not able to," Frybarger said. "We have a lot of time invested from the East Side community."
More than 300 children ranging in age from 8 to 14 compete in the league. The players live in East Toledo and attend the seven elementary schools and middle school there.
The younger players attend Birmingham, East Side Central, Franklin, Garfield, Navarre, Oakdale, and Raymer elementary schools. The older players go to East Broadway Middle School.
The league has 14 teams and two divisions. The Major League is for students in grades six through eight. The Minor League is for players in grades three through five.
The teams play at Mollenkopf Stadium at Waite High School on Saturdays from September through November.
The league's championship games were held Saturday.
Smith said most of the organization's expenses are covered by gate receipts and fund-raisers.
"Everyone is a volunteer," Smith said. "But the paramedics, police, and referees do get paid."
He said each team receives about $800 per year. He said most have their own fund-raisers.
"One team has a golf tournament. Others sell candy and pizzas," he said. "We basically take the money at the end of the year and divide it up. We have some kids that can't afford to pay. So the kids don't pay for anything."
Smith said each team has about seven coaches, and the league has five board members. He estimated that the organization has 100 volunteers.
Smith, who graduated from Waite in 1984, said most of the volunteers went through the league as youngsters and then attended Waite.
Burden said his youngest son, Vann, went on to become an all-City League linebacker at Waite.
"I know he thought it was good. He learned how to tackle and be aggressive," Burden said. "He learned what he could do and what he couldn't do."
Burden, who coaches the Oakdale team, said one of his top players is a female, Anna Martinez.
"I love East Toledo. So I just try to keep involved," he said.
Smith said Waite High School coach John Johnson is fully behind his group's efforts.
"This is an East Side thing," Smith said.
"The high school coaches are behind us. Coach Johnson comes to the games and makes his presence known. He appreciates that we push our kids to him the best that we can. He thinks it's great. It gives everyone a sense of pride."
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com
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