“We’ve participated in a few and one of our board members actually this said hey why don’t we, with this being our first year with such numbers why don’t we go ahead and try our own so that’s kind of how it got started,” said Naperville Saints President Tom Laibo. The Naperville Saints, which until 2019 was known as St. Raphael’s Football, is the town’s longest running youth football organization, dating back to 1963. Looking to expand beyond the St. Raphael football community, the program wanted to kick off the 2022 youth football season with a special preseason event. This summer the group hosted its first ever Jamboree on Saturday August 13th at both Knoch and Nike Park.
“We’re doing this to get our players ready so they can scrimmage and play full plays against kids their own age. We can really get them excited to play and get the parents ready and as you can hear behind me all the fun going out on the field shows that,” said Board of the Naperville Saints Football Organization Mike Lemons.
The early season competition also aims to increase the number of youth football players in the area, after a decline in past seasons. Each game featured kids from the ages of 7-14, all geared up in their game day uniform, and were ready to run, hit, make plays in the field, and have fun.
“The goal of the jamboree is to get these kids together, get them in a close to simulated live game environment, get them used to putting on their actual game day uniforms, and running through the plays that they work on in practice,” said Lemons.
“It’s gotten a lot of families out to see what their kids have been working on. Keep in mind we’ve only been at practice a couple weeks now so what makes it worth it and what is successful is you see how happy the kids are. You see how much fun the parents and families are having and that’s how you know it’s been a success,” said Lemons.
The first ever Jamboree was a positive sign to the youth football community in Naperville.
“We’ve gone from about 250 to 420 kids this year, so a bunch of growth and we were just really excited about having that many people interested and back into football in Naperville,” said Laibo.
The coaching staff of the Saints has been taking as many safety precautions as possible for a better and safer game. All of these are pivotal for them and the parents who want their kids to get that contact experience prior to playing at the High school level.
“My 11-year-old played last and that was his first year playing tackle. So, we kind of saw how it went coming from flag football, which I don’t think is as safe as tackle because they’re not in equipment, so this was definitely a better option. My son’s little so he’s going to have people coming after him. But I think with a helmet and pad and all that stuff that needs a lot more protection, we feel like he’s safe out there,” said Parent Nicole Tucci.
After a great turnout the organization is excited for a bright future.
“There’s a lot to be excited about with Naperville Saints youth football but even more broadly, football in Naperville which has been on the decline in recent years for several factors. So now that we’re seeing it back up the more people are educated about the game of football today versus what it was ten or twenty years ago,” said Lemons.
Now the Saints look forward to seeing the program continue to grow and continue the storied traditions of prep football in the city of Naperville.
Naperville News 17 Patrick Codo reports.
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