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Rockford Youth Football Adds to Gridiron Experience

By Jeannie Gregory, 11/01/18, 8:00PM EDT


Photo by "Papa" Razzi Sports Photography

FUN – That is the name of the game. Technically, the name of the game is basketball, but the Rockford Community Education Basketball Program is above all about FUN.

Watching the kids and coaches compete and have fun,” is what Ryan DeKuiper says is the best part of his responsibilities as program director.

With practices beginning in mid-October and games running up until Christmas break, the program services kids in 3rd through 6th grades in Rockford. This season, there are over 400 girls and boys participating.

In addition to the fun, the district’s recreation programs are designed to promote health, fitness and sportsmanship to meet the needs of the community (according to their website). The basketball league was established before DeKuiper became a part of the Rockford landscape. He says former boys varsity head coach Steve Majerle put him in charge of it early in his teaching and coaching career and “the rest is history.”

Being in charge, which is a strictly volunteer position, means he has a myriad of duties to make sure everything is functioning properly. The primary pieces are the organization and creation of teams, administering the gym on game days, training and assigning, and recruiting coaches. As part of that coach recruitment, it’s also important to communicate expectations to them.

One such coach, Tim Miller, echoes the sentiment of FUN.

As a coach, it is my responsibility to make sure number one, the kids have fun,” he says. “Number two, the kids learn the fundamentals of basketball, we learn how to run plays, and increase our skills as the season progresses. By the end of the season, win or lose, if the kids I coached had fun and learned something about basketball... we win!”

One of the approximately 50 volunteers who contribute to the program, Miller pulls double duty, coaching both a 4th and 6th grade team. He is in his second year helping with the Community Ed Program.

“I volunteer because I enjoy watching the kids improve their game over the season,” Miller says excitedly. “I also coach because I enjoy being part of the Rockford Community. I enjoy meeting the families in our community and truly enjoy each kid and the unique skills they bring to the game.”

DeKuiper echoes the important part the program plays in the community.

The community support of this program is AWESOME,” he says with pride. “The community support has been unbelievable throughout the time I’ve been here, and we’re very grateful for that. We’re very proud of the program we have in place here at Rockford and are always trying to make it better.”

Without the community support, it’s likely the FUN wouldn’t be there for the kids. While fun is in the forefront, the kids are also learning valuable skills while participating – hard work, dedication and teamwork are a few. Then there’s the actual basketball skills.

“It’s certainly a part of it,” DeKuiper says. “We have always had GREAT participation in the Community Ed Program.  I really can’t think of any players here at the high school over the past 20 years who didn’t get their start in the program.”

As they continue their progression and make it to the upper levels to suit up as a Ram, the athletes continue to participate in the program – as officials. DeKuiper said there are about 40 kids on the high school basketball teams working as officials each weekend.

“I love how the JV and Varsity players take part in the program as officials,” Miller adds. “They are examples to our youth coming up in the program and they do a great job. The best part of the Community Ed Program from my perspective is that it’s for all kids in our community at any skill level to come together and play basketball. The kids are caring. If they see a kid struggling they help them. They really want everyone on the team to succeed.”

There is no doubt, it’s a great program where the kids will have FUN, learn skills and even meet new friends. Even if your child has never played basketball there is a place for them in the Community Ed program.

And, as Miller states, “It’s a great community program and the weather is always nice in the gym!”

Photo by "Papa" Razzi Sports Photography