The success of a team is most commonly measured by a win-loss record, but for Grove Youth Football coach Chris Hill, success is measured in “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am”, good grades at school, and respect.
Seventeen young men and their parents agree with Hill’s philosophy and have spent the last five years building more than a team full of sweaty boys in helmets; they have built a family.
The Indian Nation Football Conference (INFC) team from Grove consists of boys from first grade to sixth grade. It is an organization that allows the opportunity for kids who aren’t old enough to play school-organized football a place to learn America’s game.
Most of the current boys on the team’s roster, who are now in sixth grade, began building those fundamentals and skills together in the second grade, but the end of their time under Hill is coming to an end.
“These kids have been playing together since second grade,” said Hill. “This is their last year together before they start playing football for their school.”
The boys call each other “brother” and call their coaches “dad”. The team moms are everyone’s mom.
“We spend the night together all the time,” chimed in several of the boys.
While wins and losses aren’t the focus of Hill and the other members of the coaching staff, their team has a more-than-impressive overall record of 48-7.
“We don’t have anyone who isn’t a threat,” said Hill. “We may win it all this year.”
It’s not just the boys and coaches that have created this success, though. The parents are just as important to Hill as the players.
“We have been fortunate to have the best parents you can ask for and kids that will do anything,” Hill said.
As for the boys who don the field in their helmets and pads? Their favorite memories of the past five years are beautifully youthful.
“Contact,” said #12, David Cox. “It’s fun to hit somebody,” he said with a grin.
“The time Deringer [Hollenbeck] broke his thumb,” said another. “He just looked at us and popped it back in place.”
“Coach yelling at us,” giggled another.
Hill, who is in his second stint as a youth football coach, believes that the legacy of his team lies in the men that the seventeen young boys on his team will become.
“I want them to be better off when they’re gone than when I got them,” said Hill. “These kids are going to be great in five years, in ten years.”
The GYFB team even has a sisterhood of cheerleaders who join them at their Saturday games.
Respect for their parents’ time and financial sacrifices, respect for their teachers, respect for each other: those are the wins and losses Hill says count.