Highland Park, Sports

Little Giants football is back in Highland Park — and already topping expectations

After eight years, youth football is coming back to Highland Park.

The Park District of Highland Park has revived the Little Giants Feeder Football Program for fourth- through eighth-graders this fall, and the response has surpassed expectations.

“We were hopeful to have two teams,” district Athletic Supervisor Troy Hoffmann said, adding that now the plan is for three or four teams. “We’re a little surprised by how much interest there is.”

That’s a change from 2017, when the program ended because of a decline in participation. Hoffmann joined the park district staff the next year when Highland Park players were playing in the neighboring Deerfield Young Warriors program.

“It was kind of always the plan to split off when the numbers came back,” Hoffmann said.

That was definitely the mindset of park district Executive Director Brian Romes, who said he heard every year from community members and Highland Park High School coaches about bringing back youth football.

Anthony Kopp, who is heading into his third season as HPHS head coach, is among those pushing for the return of a local youth program. The Giants reached the IHSA Class 6A second round last season, losing to eventual state champ Cary-Grove. It was their first postseason berth since 2017 — the year the youth program went dormant.

“We learned there was a strong need,” Kopp said. “The kids wanted it, the parents wanted it.

“We looked around. … All of these teams that reach the playoffs every year have their own feeder programs.”

To build a successful program, Kopp figured the Giants needed the same thing.

“Myself, I’m going to be out there,” he said. “Our coaches are going to be out there coaching those kids. As a coaching staff, we plan to be at Highland Park for a long time.”

The goal, Kopp added, is to “teach football at a young age so they’re learning how to play the right way.”

Some feeder programs — especially those for teams that run the option — focus strictly on teaching youngsters the high-school offense.

But Kopp said that won’t necessarily be the case with the Little Giants.

“At the end of the day, I don’t mind them learning different things,” he said. “It’s not bad for them to learn all sorts of offensive and defensive (concepts).”

The Highland Park teams will play in the Chicago Youth Football League. Home games would be on Sundays at Wolters Field, the Giants home field, with practices five days a week in the preseason and three days a week during the season at Sunset Woods and West Ridge parks in Highland Park.

Registration closes at 5 p.m. June 16. The cost per player is $475 with financial assistance available for qualifying families.

Preseason practice begins Aug. 5 with the first games scheduled for Aug. 25. The regular season runs into October with the playoffs continuing through mid-November.

For more information and to register, visit the park district’s youth football web page.

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Mike Clark

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