In it to win it: Bills strive for excellence on the field
The Buffalo Grove Bills pee-wee football club hadve five different teams in championships last weekend, all at BHS. The club boasts a successful program. Coach Jay Krames (left) gives Andrew Park advice at half time.| For Sun-Times Media~Joe Cyganowski
Visit www.buffalogrove.suntimes.com for more photos of the team
Updated: November 15, 2012 9:20AM
BUFFALO GROVE — This year was a good season for the Buffalo Grove Bills youth football and cheerleading program.
Five of their teams made it to their divisions’ championship games, four won, and the eighth-graders are in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend for the national championship tournament.
It was another winning year for the organization: Last year, the group set the league’s record with seven championship game appearances and five victories.
“This is a very good season,” club president Joey Weber said of the Bills’ third consecutive year of leading their league in championship game appearances.
The organization fields teams from fifth- through eighth-grade in the divisions of the Chicagoland Youth Football League, and sent 17 different squads into battle in 2012. Five of their teams — one fifth-grade team, two in sixth-grade and two in eighth-grade — made it to the CYFL’s championship games, played Saturday and Sunday at Barrington High School. Only the fifth-graders ran into a better team.
Victory is the expectation within the Bills — and those working within the Bills say they are grateful for the job Weber and his coaches and organizers are doing.
“I have to agree,” said Bill McNamara, coach of Stevenson High School’s varsity squad, which receives Bills alumni every August. “It’s great that their first exposure to football is a positive experience. It translates into players who get excited about football at an early age.”
Officials at the Buffalo Grove Park District, which owns the field the Bills play many of their games on, said the organization is well-run. Mike Terson, district spokesman, said their tenants had yet to give them anything to complain about.
Weber said being a good teacher and a good neighbor is integral to the Bills’ victory expectations — as is teaching kids life lessons.
“A lot of what you learn in football is a metaphor for life,” he said. “It teaches you how to compete, how to work as a team, how to handle adversity.”
The coaches try to impart those lessons onto a roster that has grown from fewer than 100 players and cheerleaders in 1999 to more than 300 in 2012. Since its founding in 1972, the club has followed the Stevenson boundaries, intent on getting future Patriot teammates together early.
Sometimes the Bills take their battles beyond the CYFL: the eighth-grade squad that Weber coaches won four straight National Youth Football Championship titles, the last in 2010, all in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The jump to the nationally competitive level came through simple marketing, Weber said. Long Grove, Lincolnshire and Buffalo Grove have always had the talent: He said it was just a matter of getting that talent to suit up. And getting branded with Stevenson — and getting the school’s endorsement — has helped too.
“We were able to generate this kind of credibility with our program,” he said. “Then the kids started coming. Then we started winning.”
The program also began attracting new coaches. Fifth-grade coach Chris Martinez said when he moved to the area from Tampa, Fla., he choose the Buffalo Grove area to coach.
“There was no other, better organization around here,” said Martinez, whose son Matthew is a player. “We teach winning. We’re excellent.”
The excellence had to include the facilities, Weber said. Besides gaining access to SHS’ stadium, the club also raised $45,000 to install a new irrigation system and uprights at its other home, the parks’ Emmerich East field. The Bills’ next project for that field, Weber said, will be to regrade it.
All this, Weber said, without any advertising on jerseys or club materials.
“I get requests for that all the time,” Weber said. “ ... The Bills is not a business, the Bills is a community program.”
The heart of that community, he said, is in the long-term coaches and volunteers. Weber said he dreads that as youngest sons and daughters leave the program, crucial helpers sometimes focus their energies elsewhere. A key loss this offseason might be Annette Wax, he said: The 18-year volunteer has led the Bills’ concessions program for the last six, but her son Lucas will be an SHS freshman next year.
“We’re begging her to stay, because she is an unbelievable person,” Weber said. “And never gets the credit for all she does.”
Weber said rebuilding from year to year, and maintaining the expectation of victory, requires the reloading of talent both on and around the field. He said he felt confident that the group he leads could bring a fifth national title back to Buffalo Grove.
“We’re going to be a little undersized,” he said, but his players may be able to make up for that with other skills. “This team is as good as any team I’ve had before.”