A Farmington area youth football program that has sent players on to college and even professional teams is struggling this year to fill out its rosters.
Farmington Rockets president Jen Badrak said a hundred kids ages 6 to 13 are signed up, about a third of enrollment in years past. The nearly 60-year-old league has lowered the cost of playing, offered scholarships, and advertised more than ever.
“As an organization, we are doing everything we can,” she said, noting the Western Lakes Junior Football League nearly combined the Rockets this year with another program because of low participation.
Perhaps the toughest challenge lies in parents’ perceptions about player safety. Badrak said concerns have increased with recent studies and publicity around the issue of concussions and the effects of impact injuries on young athletes.
While public awareness is recent, Farmington Rockets have focused for years on improving safety, she added. Helmets with a recommended “shelf life” of up to 10 years are replaced in six years – or immediately once they’ve taken a hit. In addition, coaches and other adults in the program have gone through a safety-focused USA Football training.
“We look at concussions as something we can prevent,” Badrak said. “By keeping (players) hydrated and teaching them the proper way to hit, we can be part of the solution to this issue. We help them build good habits and teach them only good form.”
Farmington Rockets purchases top-rated safety equipment even for flag football players, because “we feel it’s imperative for the safety of those kids,” Badrak said.
The program also competes with Farmington Public Schools’ middle school football program. And there’s a smaller pool of players, with the district’s declining enrollment. Still, the Rockets are fielding strong squads that have played together for years in a competitive atmosphere where every kid gets playing time – guaranteed.
“You will play no matter what,” Badrak said. “Kids do not get better unless they’re playing. And that means equally in practices and games.”
The program has some big fans in former players, some of whom have come back to coach and have enrolled their own children.
“What we’re hearing is, ‘This program was so important to me when I was a kid, I want my kids doing this, too.’,” Badrak said.
To register a child for football or cheerleading, or to learn more, visit farmingtonrockets.org. Badrak said parents are welcome to attend practices held this week Monday-Friday, 5:45 p.m.-7:45 p.m., at Farmington STEAM Academy (formerly O.E. Dunckel Middle School), 32800 W. 12 Mile Rd., Farmington Hills.
The Rockets open their season on Aug. 19 at Hillside Middle School in Northville. Learn more on the website or on Facebook.
Photos courtesy Farmington Rockets.