BELOIT - If the Beloit Memorial football team is going to see improvement on the varsity level, there first needs to be improvement at the youth level.
At least, that's the collective opinion of Beloit Memorial athletic director Joel Beard and his right-hand man, Ji'Juan Winfield.
The two have put a lot of work into forming the Beloit youth football Junior Knights, a program that is in its third year, but re-branded for the 2019 season.
The goal is a simple one: Unite all Beloit kids into one system, instead of parsing it out via each intermediate school.
"What we are trying to do here is provide some consistency for these kids," Winfield said. "So that they are playing with the same people starting in sixth grade all the way up through high school. That's going to do nothing but improve the program as a whole."
The Junior Knights program spent the first two years of its existence playing in Rockford, but has now moved to a Dane County league that Winfield says provides better competition.
A key element of the program is getting parents involved in the kids' participation.
"What we've found is parental involvement is critical to the success of any program," Winfield said. "We want the entire community to get excited about the football program, but the first thing we have to do is get the parents of the kids active. Don't just sit at home or in the car during a game, come on out and show your support. That's one thing I noticed under coach (Ken) DuBose. When I went up to the first game at Janesville Craig, that was as many parents as I'd seen at a game, home or away. That was great to see."
Winfield, a 1999 graduate of Beloit Memorial, is the father of Christian Winfield, a true success story in the regime of now-departed Rodney Wedig.
"Coach Wedig took Christian from a skinny kid to one of the best defensive linemen in the state, and he's playing in college right now," Winfield said. "We need to make sure that parents and kids see those kind of success stories and get motivated themselves. I didn't play football myself, but I'm a huge believer in what it can do for a kid because I've seen it in my own kids, Christian and Eliza. It holds kids accountable, and that's why we need as many kids playing as we can. I'm doing this because I know this is going to be a tool that brings the community together. From the school board to the kids to the churches, this is what we need, and I'm willing to do anything to get it off the ground and rolling like it's supposed to."
After a slow start to registration, things have picked up mightily since school went back in session.
"At the sixth grade level, we went from 13 to 33 kids once school started," Winfield said. "The seventh-grade team only had 10 players and we had to cancel their first game, but now we've got more than enough. And our eighth-grade team, I have high hopes for them moving forward, that they would be able to come in next year at the high school level and compete at the JV level right away."