In the early days, the Peoria Junior Football League struggled like a rookie quarterback.
“Back in the 70’s, there wasn’t a high school around that wanted anything to do with JFL because of our reputation, not having good coaches,” said former league president Mike Burns. “Today, we have high school coaches asking to come to our clinic to help out.”
Burns should know. He’s been with the JFL for 45 of its 50 years in Peoria.
What started with five teams in 1967, now has 3,000 players, 750 coaches and 127 teams from all over central Illinois.
“We’ve got them coming from Bloomington, Pontiac, Lincoln, Stark County, Brimfield, Olympia,” said Burns, who coached a team from East Peoria in his first year in the league in 1972.
It’s now the called the Junior Football League of central Illinois and this year it turns 50.
Fifty years of helping players with equipment, 50 years of moms taking pictures, 50 years of coaches teaching young players the game of football.
“There are other youth leagues around the area,” said league operating officer Mike Hieber. “I’m prejudiced but I think we are the best in downstate Illinois.”