Since the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference canceled full-contact high school football in the fall, independent leagues are gaining traction across the state.
“I just can’t imagine what the players are going through, what the coaches, the parents – that was really the start,” said longtime high school football coach Jack Cochran.
Cochran, who won eight Connecticut state titles as a head coach at three high schools, has started the Yankee Football League to give high school athletes the opportunity to play this season.
“They’re seeing all their friends at school, their peers playing other sports,” said Cochran. “They’re seeing colleges playing, professionals playing and they deserve that, they really do.”
The Yankee Football League isn’t the only option for athletes. Daniel Lacasky owns a semi-pro football team in the East Coast Football League and he is starting another independent league called the Connecticut High School Independent Football League (CHS-IFL).
“We can have success with this based on our experiences in the East Coast Football League,” said Lacasky. “Our league spans from Connecticut to Maine. We’ve had zero cases, zero issues with contact tracing, nothing thereof."
Both independent leagues have secured venues and are hoping to start in the fall. The Yankee Football League is targeting an eight-game season which could start on September 26, while the CHS-IFL hopes to begin in October.
Some health experts remain concerned that playing a sport that is classified as high-risk could affect in-person learning.
“Is it more important to keep our schools open or is it more important to play independent football,” asked Stan Vermund, dean at Yale School of Public Health. “I would argue it’s more important to keep our schools open.”
Both leagues say that safety is their top priority and they have protocols in place that include thoroughly cleaning the equipment, temperature checks, health questionnaires, and uniform requirements.
“Keeping kids out of huddles during the football game, face shields were discussed,” said Cochran.
“Basically to create as a little possible transmission of touch, sweat, any other kind of liquid,” said Lacasky.
Teams and players from all over the state have shown interest.
“The league’s messages, my texts, my emails, there’s so much I can barely keep up,” said Lacasky.
“The support and the calls and the interest has been incredible,” said Cochran.
“We have great interest in it,” said St. Joseph football head coach Joe Della Vecchia. “We’re going to try and push forward to it. We should be playing right now so whatever we can do to get on the field, we’re going to do it.”
For the athletes, the chance to compete would mean everything.
“We put in too much work to not have a season or at least not even have a chance to have a season,” said Ridgefield junior Terry Li.
“I don’t care what league it is,” said St. Joseph senior Brady Hutchison. “I don’t care what season it is. I just want to be able to put on that jersey one last time with my best friends and play a couple games of football.”