Sacked: Chatham youth football leagues follow suit, cancel fall 2020 seasons

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/2/20

The East Chatham Chargers and the Siler City Jets, two youth football programs, won’t take the field in this year.

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Sacked: Chatham youth football leagues follow suit, cancel fall 2020 seasons

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The East Chatham Chargers and the Siler City Jets, two youth football programs who combined for three regional championships and two runner-up finishes last fall, won’t take the field in 2020.

Both organizations operate under the Quad County Recreational Football League, which voted early this month to cancel all of its 2020 football and cheer competitions.

Add in the NCHSAA’s new athletics calendar, which moved high school football to the spring, and it’ll be a unique fall in Chatham County — one that youth football leaders said was a sad but logical outcome.

“We have a board, and we sat down and discussed how to make a safe environment,” Siler City parks and recreation director Jack Clelland said. “We didn’t feel like we were at that place with football yet.”

“I think a lot of parents were hoping for football, so it was definitely disappointing,” East Chatham Chargers league president Chasidy Parker said. But, she added, “I understand all the reasoning.”

Although an informal organization at its roots, the Quad County league became a major decision-maker this summer for its member leagues in Chatham, Randolph, Orange and Wake counties.

Over the last few months, its board of directors held meetings to discuss the feasibility of a 2020 football season, which in usual years encompasses kids ages 5 to 12 and offers flag and tackle options.

The Quad County league also holds regional championships. At last year’s event, held in November 2019 in Randolph County, East Chatham won the 5/6-year-old flag and 11/12-year-old tackle division championships, and Siler City won the 9/10-year-old tackle division title.

Outside of the East Chatham Chargers, every league in the QC group (including the Siler City Jets) is sponsored by a local parks and recreation department. And since those parks and rec departments are government entities, the league leaned heavily on local and state guidance to dictate its path forward.

“We try to follow suit whenever we can,” Clelland said.

Parker said the Chargers, a non-profit group, were planning to hold a season “up until the announcement was made.” The ECC opened up registration in June but didn’t ask for any registration fees, instead putting families on a waitlist as it held out for a final decision.

The league was strategizing on safety precautions: hand sanitizer on site, hand-washing breaks, reduced contact at practice and even face shields. And registration numbers were up — one team, Parker said, had a 13-player roster in 2019 but grew to 27 sign-ups in 2020.

“We were trying to make our accommodations and be very prepared,” said Parker, whose sons Duncan, 11, and Davis, 7, play in the league.

But two major decisions at the state level proved crucial. First, on Aug. 5, Gov. Roy Cooper extended North Carolina’s Phase Two. (On Tuesday afternoon, Cooper announced the the state would move into Phase 2.5 on Friday.)

Youth football teams usually start practice in late July or early August and play through mid-November — much like high school teams — so adapting to the new date would have meant a schedule overhaul. Plus, football might end up bumping into the winter leagues some departments are planning.

“We knew we wouldn’t have time,” said Clelland, whose department canceled the Siler City Jets’ football and cheer seasons on Aug. 7.

Second, the NCHSAA pushed back its fall sports season start date until at least mid-September, to match Cooper’s Phase Two requirement. A week later, it released an overhauled athletics calendar. Teams won’t compete in any sports until November, and football has been delayed until February 2021.

“We depend on Northwood’s fields,” Parker said, “so we knew if the school system or NCHSAA didn’t allow football, it was unlikely they’d let us use the facilities.”

Her hunch was correct, and she announced the ECC’s season cancellation Aug. 10 on Facebook. One parent responded: “My son was upset about this since his school doesn’t have football, but we totally understand!”

Parker and Clelland said they got a lot of reactions like that from families.

Siler City’s parks and recreation department is issuing refunds, and it’s also holding a contactless football minicamp later this month at the Bray Park Sports Complex, with COVID-19 safety measures in place.

Kara Dudley, a county public information officer, said the lack of youth football won’t affect revenue for the Chatham County parks and recreation department, since it doesn’t offer a youth football league. (One of its staffers, Andrew Harrison, does represent the Chargers on the QC league board, though.)

And Parker said the canceled season will not hurt the East Chatham Chargers’ finances much. Its budget will remain steady, since its routine each year is simply renting out equipment to kids each season and getting it back at the end of the year. Extra merchandise and concession profits will take a small hit.

“The financial impact was more that it could have been a great season if we did play, because of our numbers,” Parker said. “But we’ll just sit where we are (this fall). It doesn’t impact us hugely.”

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.


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