The Wilson Times

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 11:36 PM

Midget football league still standing tall

By Paul Durham | Sports Editor

Eight-year-old Makhi Eatmon and 9-year-old Jackson Summerlin pondered the question of how many seasons has the Wilson Parks and Recreation Department’s Midget Football League been playing, unaware they were part of something in Wilson that stretched back to possibly before their grandparents were born.

Teammates on the ages 7-9 Mighty Mite Football League Chiefs, the pair was astonished to learn the answer was 65 seasons of Midget Football in Wilson.

"Dang! That’s pretty good!” said Jackson on the sideline at Fike High where the Chiefs were taking on the Seahawks.

The two, along with the other several dozen kids who play for the Chiefs and Seahawks and ages 10-12 Midget League teams Titans and Patriots that played the next game, were a testament to the enduring popularity of Midget Football, which began in Wilson in 1949.

"The program is unique in that it’s 65 years of having the same program running,” said Wilson Parks and Recreation Department Director David Lee. "I don’t know for sure, but I doubt there’s other places that have run youth tackle football for 65 years.

It’s one of our best programs, when they get organized and run the plays, it’s one of the coolest things we do. The coaches and our staff and all the people who have been involved in it over the years all deserve a lot of credit.”

The program, which has been a rite of passage for thousands of youngsters in Wilson, has undergone numerous changes, additions and subtractions over the decades but the game pretty much remains the same.

Recreation athletic supervisor Travis Stigge said this season, there are 153 players on four Midget teams and three Mighty Mite teams. The Mighty Mite program was begun in the early 2000s for ages 9-10 because there was a demand. The age limits moved back three years ago and last season the league moved its games from Fleming Stadium to Fike High.

"Basically we were just trying to give it more of a football atmosphere,” said Wilson Recreation Superintendent. "Fike’s been really good in working with us.”

The all-star game, once a staple of the old Midget League, was dropped from 1987-89 before being revived in 1990 and continued until a few years ago.

"We pretty much dropped the all-star program,” Stigge explained. "The numbers, for two teams of all-stars, we just couldn’t do it.”

The cheerleaders, also part of Midget Football since the first season, no longer do their thing on the sideline.

The league consisted of four teams from districts Park Avenue, Five Points, Maplewood and Recreation Park until 1987 when players were assigned randomly to teams with generic nicknames. The Reid Street Community Center league, which began play in the early 1950s, also had four teams from 1959 to 1986. The two programs were merged in the late 1980s.

While the recreation department’s Midget Football programs were the city’s only youth tackle leagues for decades, today there are other avenues for kids to play tackle football, notably at The SPOT and the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club.

For 65 seasons, Midget Football has served many purposes in Wilson, from providing a basis of the game to aspiring middle and high school players to teaching children sportsmanship and life lessons to creating a sense of community. But Tuesday night at Fike, it was abundantly clear that the program has survived and thrived for decades because it’s just plain fun.

As snowflakes trickled in among the sleety mixture that fell on Tyson Jennette Field (creating perhaps a first snow game in 65 seasons), players from the Patriots loosened up, bounced around, chatted with each other and teammates and tried to stay warm as they prepared to play the Titans.

"It’s like, crazy!” marveled Jaiquan King of the Patriots as he pondered playing in the snow just like the NFL’s New England Patriots do this time of year.

Jaiquan quickly noted tackling was his favorite part of football while his teammate Makal Brown indicated he preferred catching the ball and running with it.

Makal was impressed to learn he was playing in the 65th season of Midget Football at Wilson Parks and Recreation Department.

"That’s a good thing for little kids to play,” he said. | 265-7808

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