City of Mascoutah
Mascoutah Little Indians Youth Football Program
Mascoutah is a growing community of about 7,500 located near Scott Air Force Base. The city has become home to a number of retired Service Members and has a sizable population of Active Duty Military families. The number of new housing developments in town and rising school enrollment indicated a need for more children's activities; before the Little Indians formed, baseball and softball were the only outdoor youth sports offered in town.
For years, parents who wanted their kids to play football had to drive half an hour each way to participate in the nearest programs. One Friday night at a Mascoutah High School football game, David Ohl and Glen Gibbons saw a group of children playing football under the bleachers and stopped to talk to them. They learned that several of the children were playing with programs in the St. Louis Metro East Area. Soon other parents joined the conversation and after a lengthy discussion, they were convinced of the need to start a youth football program in Mascoutah.
The group of like-minded parents decided to start the Mascoutah Little Indians Youth Football Program. They estimated 60 - 90 kids would participate but the response greatly exceeded their estimates as more than 230 players and 75 cheerleaders registered for the '09 inaugural season.
As the season came to a close, it was apparent the program needed to continue; 75 players had already registered for 2010. However there were significant challenges. The program was $23,000 in debt from the volume of participants and high cost of the initial purchase of player and field equipment. If children didn't return, repaying the debt would be difficult. Second, the program needed to find a league more closely matched to Mascoutah's size. In 2009, the organization played in a league with teams from the St. Louis Metro East area, a highly competitive and established league comprised of programs from cities three to five times Mascoutah's size.
The most important factor in paying off the debt was registering players and cheerleaders, but it was far from clear how many kids would return in 2010. Of the 9 teams fielded in 2009, only 1 was competitive. Most teams won only 1 game, and most losses were incredibly lop-sided. Worse, and difficult for parents to watch, the teams on the field were out-matched in terms of both size and experience. 75% of the kids were playing in their first season against kids who had played together for 5 years, and out-weighed by 30 pounds per player. This was a dangerous combination.
The critical element in getting football players to return was finding a suitable league to play in. The group petitioned the Southwestern Illinois Youth Football Conference for membership. Comprised of 5 small-town programs, the Conference had just completed its first year, and eager to grow, they accepted Mascoutah. The small-town nature of the SWILYFC seemed a perfect match.
Once the new conference affiliation was announced, registrations started pouring in. The towns in the conference were natural rivals for Mascoutah, and locals understood the importance of competing against similar size teams. Additionally, the group advertised the program on Scott Air Force Base. Registrations increased to 250 players and 115 cheerleaders. Moreover, the Board secured agreements with equipment manufacturers to carry the debt interest-free while they worked to pay it off. Through registration fees, fundraising, and sponsorships, the Little Indians paid off all obligations and were completely out of debt by the end of the 2010 season.
Gaining the support of the community was the Little Indian's third goal for 2010. The group approached outreach in several ways. First, they offered local businesses the opportunity to sponsor which resulted in $2,500 in donations as well as additional in-kind services. Next they joined local civic organizations so they could personally interact and tell their story to community leaders. Finally, they found ways to help out around town and give back to the community. This included fun things, such as having the cheerleaders perform during the Fall Festival in downtown Mascoutah, and time-consuming projects, like working the fried chicken stand during Homecoming.
The community support for the Little Indians has been nothing short of remarkable. At the end of the 2010 season, the city set aside ground to build a permanent game field. This commitment clearly demonstrates community support over the long-term. Up until now, the Little Indians have played their home games on a temporary field set up on a patch of grass in the park.
This could not have occurred without herculean volunteer help. A staff of 53 coaches received training on the proper standards for safety and sportsmanship and completed the USA Football coaching certification course. Inspecting equipment prior to the season's start and continual field prep are daunting tasks completed by volunteers. Then volunteers are needed for concessions, merchandise sales, field operations, public relations and a host of other activities.
Along the way, the Little Indians greatly promoted civic pride. Utilizing the Mascoutah High School
1979 state championship football team logo of an arrowhead with an "M" in the middle, the group has shaped the character of the community's youth, rallied for a worthy cause, and started a winning tradition.