Youth football squabbles aired

Grievances, some long held, were aired between dueling youth football staffs Tuesday in a regular meeting of the Bellefontaine Joint Recreation District board.


J.J. Stratton, president of the Bellefontaine Youth Football Association and one of the coaches of the Junior Chiefs football program, shows 8- and 9-year-olds the basic offensive formation during the team’s first regular practice Tuesday at the Pine Avenue practice field. (EXAMINER PHOTO | REUBEN MEES)

Wayne Linkinhoker, former head coach of the Bellefontaine Little Chiefs youth football team, and Bellefontaine City Council member Dave Haw, general manager of the program, attended the meeting to publicly explain why there won’t be a Little Chiefs youth football program in Bellefontaine for the first time in almost 25 years.

It came down to numbers, Mr. Linkinhoker said. The other youth football team, the Junior Chiefs, had 53 players sign up, and the Little Chiefs had 19 players sign up.

There were some accusations of recruitment of players, said J.J. Stratton, who heads up the Junior Chiefs youth football program.

Mr. Linkinhoker also accused Mr. Stratton’s coaching staff of using a post-season tournament last year in Troy, with chances to play three or more games, over kids’ heads as a means to get them to sign up for his team. He said 15 of his former players switched teams this year, because Mr. Stratton had “given them a taste” of this post-season tournament, and then wouldn’t let them play in it again unless they signed up for his team.

Aside from the Little Chiefs’ claim that the parks and recreation department could and should have done more over the years to prevent the two programs from competing with one another in the first place, board members barely spoke on the topic.

The respective coaching staffs also accused the other of undermining a good-faith effort made years ago to evenly split the youth football teams.

Parks Superintendent Kris Myers explained that Mr. Linkinhoker approached him shortly after registration this year and said he wouldn’t have enough players to field a squad.

The parks superintendent and board took great pains to thank Mr. Linkinhoker for all his work over the years teaching football to local youths.

However, the result now is one youth football program in the city. Mr. Stratton said there are 32 players on the varsity squad, 28 on the junior varsity and close to 20 first-year participants that will play in seven-on-seven tackle games designed to learn the rules and fundamentals of tackle football, Mr. Stratton said.

Mr. Myers said that youth football is in a “state of transition,” adding that the parks board is currently working toward bringing all of youth football in the city “in house,” and doing away with the team’s participation in an area tri-county league.   

The parks board is also considering a request from the Ohio Tribe travel baseball team to schedule use of the ball fields in the city parks.

Despite a pretty busy schedule with recreation-league baseball, the board appeared willing to work with the team which includes mostly Bellefontaine players along with Benjamin Logan and some Indian Lake students.

A rental fee of the diamonds likely would apply, said Mr. Myers. He presented the board with copies of a rental agreement utilized by Union County.

The parks superintendent also reported the parks department has received a $2,400 grant from the Ohio Audubon Society to pay for signs around Myeerah Nature Preserve.

Mr. Myers reminded the board of a community event set for 4 to 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 16 at Southview Park, hosted by local law enforcement. There will be children’s games, bouncy house, and various first responder equipment demonstrations. The second annual community function is the finale in a series of smaller community outreach events staged by the Bellefontaine Police Department throughout the summer.

Through those events, police have learned, they are keeping a closer eye on suspected drug activity in city parks, especially near Ratleff and Rutan parks, Mr. Myers said.

The roof of a maintenance shed in the vicinity of east Williams and east High avenues in Rutan Park will be repaired beginning today, Mr. Myers said, at a cost of about $3,500.

The next regular meeting is Sept. 2.