Coach Fred Arkin has seen firsthand more than a generation of the Oak Park River Forest Youth Football program.
Entering the third year of his second stint with the program, Arkin now is coaching players in the 6-7-8-year-old age group whose fathers also played for him.
“It is fun to see. Here’s a guy that I knew as a youth, a 12 or 13-year-old, and I haven’t seen him in 25 years. All of a sudden, he’s out there with his son,” Arkin said.
“I think it’s a great program. I think there are great alumni. The people that run it are very professional.”
There are seven teams and approximately 150 players this season. Boys and girls from ages 6 to 14 are divided by age, weight and playing skills and experience.
OPRFYF is among 38 member teams in The Chicagoland Youth Football League (TCYFL). Most OPRFYF teams play in the Big 10 division, and there also is a developmental Pac 10 division.
Season openers are Aug. 29. Home games at Oak Park and River Forest High School are open to the public with no admission and are from roughly 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
“One thing I love to say is it’s better to watch on a Sunday than (football) on television,” registrar and coach Chris Guillen said. “Most games are about an hour and a half. They’re fast and they’re fun. It’s really fun watching the 6, 7, 8-year-olds play on the 100-yard football field. They go out in a huddle and you see how big the field is to them.”
Arkin coached from the late 1970s to late 1980s before moving to Hoffman Estates. Also a longtime youth wrestling coach, he has been the OPRF freshman/developmental wrestling coach since 2008 after returning under former head coach Mike Powell, one of Arkin’s youth wrestlers.
Marty Paris, one of Arkin’s former youth football players, asked Arkin to resume coaching football when his son first joined. Jack Paris will be the quarterback for Arkin’s team this season.
“It is different (now) in terms of the fundamentals of tackling and blocking,” Arkin said. “USA Football is a great program at educating coaches in terms of heads up tackling and to use the shoulders, shoulder pads so there’s much less contact with the helmet than there was 25, 30 years ago. It has become a much different game because of it.”
All OPRFYF coaches are certified through USA Football and receive Positive Coaching Alliance training every three years. All TCYFL programs support the philosophies of those organizations and Heads Up Football.
Trainers are present at every game. This season, ATI Physical Therapy is providing proactive concussion screening for OPRFYF players 10 and over. Guillen said they will receive baseline tests before the season so they can be evaluated more effectively if necessary.
In 2013, OPRFYF had nine reported injuries for 240 players and 99 regular-season games, Guillen said.
“Everyone thinks that (injuries) are happening every other play and they’re not,” Guillen said. “We have a third party (trainers) interested in the children as well. We (coaches) have that interest as well, but there are medical people and they are pulling kids.”
Coaching the youngest group, Arkin focuses on football basics but more so the responsibilities and commitments of being part of a team. Last season, he sat one player because of his poor behavior at school.
“A lot of it is we’re trying to teach the kids the human side of the game,” Arkin said. “For some, it’s their first taste of football but also their first taste of a sport.”