By Trey Williams
Trying to tackle a problem of floundering community support while bolstering participation, Johnson City Schools and the Johnson City Parks and Recreation have combined to bring back the recreation department’s first football league in 43 years.
Elementary schools will field three teams – probably ages 10-11, 8-9 and 6-7 – and games will be played at Kermit Tipton Stadium and Indian Trail Middle School, which is expected to have a synthetic surface installed at its field this spring.
Science Hill head football coach Stacy Carter said the initial feedback has been encouraging.
“We’ve been to all eight elementary schools,” Carter said. “And we’ll go back to the rec centers and probably back to some of those schools. We’ve had a good response.”
The Junior Toppers program has been the primary option for Johnson City youth for 23 years. Bart Lyon has worked tirelessly orchestrating that venture for nearly 24 years. Paying for fields, officials and equipment was a constant battle.
“It’s been very successful,” Lyon said. “And when you look at the top athletes playing for Science Hill, most of them played Junior Toppers football. Coach Carter has a vision to take the program with the youth to another level that will create more community pride and get more kids involved. …
“Coach Carter is a great leader and with his vision this will (improve) our athletics. … Our city, our Parks and Recreation department and the school system have really made a commitment that is second to none to make sure that we have football opportunities for 400 to 500 kids each year. This is an awesome commitment that all parties have made, and it will pay off.”
Carter said he appreciates what Lyon has done for more than two decades.
“We’re just continuing what Bart’s done,” Carter said. “He’s done a great job. Scotty Busler (Lyon’s assistant) works hard and does a great job. …
“Bart’s been saying they affected about 120 people. We want to affect about 450, which we think we can by doing this. Now, we might only start out with 200-some, but it’ll grow every year. … We’ve already got 100, which I think is pretty good. Signups last until June 15. There’ll be a $50 registration fee, but there’ll be scholarship forms available for financial assistance too. They just have to fill out a form.”
Lake Ridge, Fairmont, Woodland, Town Acres and Providence Academy all appear certain to field teams of their own. Some other elementary schools might combine to form teams. Carter anticipates having at least six teams during the debut season this year.
Teams will also have cheerleaders. At least, $30,000 has been earmarked for cheerleaders while $130,000 is going for football costs such as equipment.
“The city has said, ‘We’re investing in these kids,’” Carter said.
All teams will be called the Toppers and will use variations of Science Hill uniforms. Helmets will be white with maroon facemasks and emblems representing respective elementary schools.
“We’ve been really pushing, ‘We’re all Toppers,’” Carter said.
Lyon and Carter said the Parks and Rec has gone above and beyond in helping get the ball rolling.
“April Norris (interim Parks and Rec director) has been fantastic,” Carter said. “Bristol did this in basketball. It worked for them. I think they’re going to do this (for football) in Bristol. I’d say Kingsport will, too.”
Carter said Science Hill players will be able to get jobs doing everything from coaching to working the chains, and ETSU will provide trainers at games.
Anyone can apply for the coaching positions. Science Hill will host a coaching clinic on June 19. A youth camp will be held the following day.