New Jersey residents are being asked to avoid any unnecessary out-of-state travel amid a surge of COVID-19 cases around the country, but that’s not stopping the parents and players of five New Jersey youth football teams from heading to Florida for a big tournament this weekend.
To play or not to play has been the question and constant debate among the organizers of New Jersey youth football leagues in the months since the pandemic began.
“Well there was a daily debate, I’m sure, at every waking minute of the day,” says Jersey Shore Football and Cheer Alliance president Michael Liloia.
So, this weekend, even with travel advisories in effect and infection rates skyrocketing nationwide, the answer for at least five New Jersey teams is to head to Florida to play in the annual American Youth Football National Championships.
“And they were just advised to stick to all local and state ordinances and regulations to make sure they come back safe and don’t endanger themselves or anyone else,” Liloia says.
The 42 teams of the New Jersey American Youth Football Jersey Shore Conference in July canceled the season, saying that it would be unsafe to play during the pandemic. But 16 teams in the conference banded together and decided to play their own season outside of the NJAYF’s purview. They say that their 10-game season went off with strict protocols and no outbreaks tied to the games.
“Parents were ecstatic that we kicked the season off the way we did,” says Liloia. “We brought some normalcy back to the kids.”
When it came time for the Florida tournament, some teams declined to attend, figuring that the 10-game season was enough.
“Maybe for different reasons they bailed on going to nationals. I applaud their decisions because I don’t know it was the best thing to go to nationals. But if they wanted to go, we would have supported them,” says Howell American Youth Football and Cheer president Dan Doyle.
Football is a team sport and some people would say that the ultimate team move would be not to go.
“I may agree with them. I may not agree with them. I just simply say it’s your team, it’s your decision,” Liloia says.
The players and chaperones on the five teams heading to Florida will be expected to quarantine for two weeks once they return, according to state guidelines