Nate Eimer and Kurt Becker know the story.
The head coaches at West and East Aurora high schools are well aware of the continuing struggles experienced in their football programs. Each returned to their respective alma mater — Eimer four years ago, Becker three — with eyes wide open.
And each sees progress being made.
For Eimer, key development has been his recent initiative, spearheaded by assistant coach Tad Keely, involving West’s so-called feeder program at the district’s four middle schools: Herget, Washington, Jefferson and Jewel.
“It’s where you’ve gotta start. We’ve got to make it a solid foundation,” Eimer said.
He recently emailed parents of prospective middle school athletes and outlined what he hopes will be “the improved partnership” between the two programs. It involves three phases: safety, commitment and preparation for high school.
“The last couple years, the (middle school) teams, from time to time, played two games in a week,” he said.
With parents’ growing concerns about concussions and other safety matters involving sports, West’s middle schools will follow the same guidelines put in place involving contact, practices and games by the IHSA for high school kids.
“We’ll follow a strict protocol,” Eimer said.
The middle schools will also be offering a one-week summer camp for players, coaches will attend a clinic staged by the high school coaches and the season will be run on a schedule similar to the high school.
Offensive and defensive playbooks provided by West’s staff will also be used at the middle schools to ease the transition for future freshman players.
The middle schools will take part in an Aurora League featuring a seven-week season. It will include the four West (District 129) teams, three from East’s District 131 (Cowherd, Simmons, Waldo) and Aurora Christian Middle School.
“We’ve been working on that relationship since the day I took over,” Becker said. “It’s all coordinated and we have meetings with the coaches and ADs to give them as much support as we can.”
Both coaches are pleased with Fox Valley Park District’s plans to begin a Flag Football League this fall for children in grades 1 through 6 that will teach youngsters basic skills in a low-cost, non-contact league.
“This flag football thing is great,” said Eimer, noting it could help young players develop good habits.
“Growing up, I didn’t have anything like that. We didn’t start tackle (football) until seventh grade.”
Now, there are plenty of options for younger kids.
At East, Becker has the Tomcat Youth Tackle League ready to start its third season this fall. It’s affiliated with the Bears and plays in The Chicagoland Youth Tackle Football League.
“Hopefully, we’ll have more than 100 kids playing this year,” he said. “Ours is kind of unique in that we have only kids from within our district playing. Our goal is that these kids can grow together as teammates.”
The West Side and surrounding towns have a variety of options for grade school youngsters with programs like the Aurora Superstars, Fox Valley Gators and several others that draw from more than one town.
“We’ve got kids going every which way,” said Eimer, quick to add he had no problem with them.
If such efforts will, as Becker said, “re-energize the football culture in the city” remains to be seen.
“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” he said. “There’s talent out here. We have to get ‘em out.
“The results are not only in W’s or L’s. It’s about what kind of kids we produce. If they’re going to class, working out, staying out of trouble, the W’s will take care of themselves.”