7on7 youth football league finds great relationship with high school programs

This 7 on 7 program teaches young Tri-Cities football players the sport

Columbia Basin Youth Football 7on7 Passing League teaches young athletes how to play the sport.
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Columbia Basin Youth Football 7on7 Passing League teaches young athletes how to play the sport.

For six weeks this spring out at Eastgate Elementary School in Kennewick, near the fairgrounds, boys of all ages have been running football pass patterns, defending passes and throwing them to each other.

There has been about 2,000 of them doing this and/or playing with their teams in the fall.

That’s pretty impressive, and it’s run by the Columbia Basin Youth Football League.

It’s called the Columbia Basin Youth Football 7on7 Passing League – a program in its sixth year, and one half of a two-part CBYF element that also includes full-contact football in the fall.

In 7on7, the only thing missing are the linemen on both sides of the ball. It’s about running passing routes, and trying to defend those on the other side of the ball.

The numbers alone are impressive: 47 teams involving kids from grades 1 through 8. That doesn’t include the two weekends high school varsity and junior varsity teams compete in tournaments.

Tournament is this weekend

In fact, the 7on7 Football Kings of the Columbia high school tournament will be held this weekend at Lampson Stadium, with the championship being televised Sunday at 1 p.m. throughout Eastern Washington on SWX Television.

But that’s not the most impressive thing about this.

What catches the eye is that almost every high school varsity football head coach involved has opened their offensive playbooks to these youth teams and their coaches.

It’s a far cry from the days when coaches were afraid to say anything wrong, for fear of putting something up on another team’s bulletin board.

It’s fair to say high school football coaches from past years were paranoid, to say the least.

But now? Opening up their playbooks?

Young football players play 7on7 with the Columbia Basin Youth Football 7on7 Passing League. They are learning the sport by running football pass patterns, defending passes and throwing them to each other near Eastgate Elementary School in Kennewick. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

Now listen to them:

“The Junior Bombers do run our playbook, we have had several clinics with these coaches, and they all pretty much understand our philosophy on offense and defense,” said Richland coach Mike Neidhold. “We as a staff have enjoyed being a part of that. That is huge for us because by the time we get them, we don’t have to teach the concepts, and that allows us to get into nuances of pass route concepts and teach some of the ‘secret’ things we do.”

Hanford coach Brett Jay agrees, and he loves the 7on7 period in the spring.

“This is very important,” Jay said. “Getting our players familiar with our plays, route destinations and timing, progressions, drop zones can all be practiced during this time. Football might be the most difficult sport to just go play. In basketball, you go find a park and get in a 3-on-3 game.”

Helps players develop skills

“There are baseball games that are played year round,” Jay added. But 7on7 allows players to develop their skill out of season, and Jamie Weber has provided us this opportunity.”

Weber is the president of the CBYF.

His two sons, Alex and Caleb, have long since graduated from Chiawana High School.

But Weber still loves what he’s doing.

“My interest in the CBYF came when my kids said my volunteer efforts should be focused on aligning our area’s youth football program with the high schools, as is becoming more prominent across Washington,” said Weber.

“What the 12 CBYF junior programs have learned is the same as what other similar 2,000 participant-sized leagues around the country have: that by having the teams in your league coordinate with their respective high school coaches, it creates a focus on keeping the kids injury free and having a fun experience,” he said.

Weber said when he talked to the various Mid-Columbia Conference football coaches, the major themes were apparent.

“The high school coaches said, ‘Don’t get them hurt, and make sure they have a good time,’” said Weber.

That’s just been what’s happening.

Safety is paramount

The CBYF follows what the high schools do to help prevent injuries. CBYF coaches learn the proper tackling and blocking techniques the high schools teach.

“High school programs made changes,” said Weber. “We’re implementing those methods. Most coaches now bring their youth coaches into the (coaching) clinics.”

As a result, fewer kids get hurt and more of them have fun.

Jamie Weber is the Columbia Basin Youth Football president. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

“The CBYF directly attributes its three consecutive 25 percent year-over-year participant increase to this junior program structure,” said Weber. “As when there’s a focus and objective for a youth football program, it doesn’t allow a venue for a vicarious dad coach to execute his intentions.”

There are restrictions, of course, to make sure things are cleared with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the executive organization that oversees high school and middle school football in the state of Washington.

And everyone involves knows the parameters.

For one, high school coaches can be involved in youth football with players grades 1-6. But WIAA jurisdiction starts at grade 7. Also, summer for the high school level begins on the first day following the spring sports state championships. Coaches can instruct middle school coaches and players when teams are in season.

High school coaches can be on youth football’s board of directors, but only for administrative duties; and a helper or volunteer at the high school level is regarded by the WIAA as a high school coach.

12 schools participate

Twelve area schools have joined in the program: Chiawana, Hanford, Kamiakin, Kennewick, Kiona-Benton, Pasco, Prosser, Richland, River View, Southridge, Walla Walla and Zillah.

The teams are Junior (school mascot). So a Kamiakin team would be called Junior Braves, a Chiawana team a Junior Riverhawks squad, etc.

Walla Walla is the latest school to join. Its first season was last fall.

“The CBYF gives our kids an opportunity to compete against future opponents,” said Walla Walla High School athletic director Dirk Hansen. “The level of competition is very competitive. All Blue Mountain Youth Football teams mirror the drills and schemes of Wa-Hi football for the purpose of alignment. This way, by the time they reach high school level, the transition is seamless.”

From the days back in the 1990s, Prosser’s youth programs always ran what the high school teams did. It was one of the reasons the Mustangs had great programs.

They still do.

“We have been blessed that a lot of the coaches that have been involved in our youth programs have used concepts that are within our offensive structure,” said current Prosser head coach Corey Ingvalson. “It is great for the athletes and coaching staff to have things aligned so they are learning one thing, making it easier to transition to football in the spring, summer and fall.”

Ingvalson especially enjoys the 7on7 league.

“It provides you with an opportunity to compete as a team, develop your passing game as a team, and do it with the guys you will be competing with in the fall,” he said.

Hansen likes what he’s seen so far too, especially in the fall.

“I was immediately impressed by the level of competition right off the bat last fall as we entered our inaugural season,” he said. “The leadership that Mr. Weber provides is why this all works.”

Local businesses get involved

Weber reached out to area businesses to help.

He got Ranch and Home to cover the league’s insurance policy and pay for a No-Kids-Left-Out policy. If a kid’s family can’t afford to pay to play in the league, Ranch and Home covers it.

He got Back to Basics Chiropractic to cover additional expenses to create the 7on7 high school division.

He contacted the local officials association, the Tri-Cities Sports Officials Association, to see if they could work together.

Jeff Kinne, a member of the TCSOA, works with the CBYF.

“Jeff is an amazing guy and shows up to our league’s board meetings to convey what the WIAA refs are seeing on our fields,” said Weber.

Kinne likes what he’s seen in the CBYF.

“This is so much better organized,” said Kinne. “We got away from youth football 15 years ago because of the drama. When we met with the CBYF, we told them to manage your sideline, build a coaches box at 10 yards, put a check on their parents, and put a check on their coaches.”

It all happened, and it’s been a great working relationship since.

In fact, one official, on his own, approached a local Dairy Queen franchise to see about helping out. Now officials hand out coupons for free DQ ice cream to those players who show the best sportsmanship during a game.

The CBYF and officials also started an apprenticeship program to help train former CBYF players on becoming officials.

Spokane now following along

Spokane’s Pop Warner league officials were so impressed with what the CBYF was doing that they restructured their seventh and eighth grade leagues to align with CBYF’s. They then had their champions play the CBYF champs at Eastern Washington University in November.

“Spokane voted (this year) to roll it back all the way down to fourth grade, and this year championships will be fifth through eighth grades,” said Weber.

The key has been allowing the youth coaches to get a peek behind the varsity coaches’ curtain. In turn, those varsity coaches should be reaping the benefits for years to come. By players already knowing philosophy and the playbook, practice time can be used more efficiently.

“I can only speak to the Junior Bomber program, but from what I have seen is that the adults running it have the big picture figured out,” said Neidhold. “The adults have seen firsthand the value of playing football and what that does for each individual. Also, they are making football safe for these kids with proper tackling technique and getting the kids in quality helmets and shoulder pads. They have done a great job of asking questions about our program and getting in on our philosophy of how we do things at Richland.”

Jay agrees.

“(Weber) has done a phenomenal job of creating a unified youth football program that aligns with our high schools,” said Jay. “This allows our coaches to have an influence. We get to help develop our youth by developing skills and improving safety. Coaching our coaches is a huge priority. This is about providing the best possible environment for our kids.”

Jeff Morrow is a former sports editor for the Herald.