While it goes against the wishes of many in town, the youth football season in Ridgefield will unfold with two leagues following all the acrimony in the winter and spring.
Steve Scalzo, a former board member with Ridgefield Youth Football, created the Ridgefield Football and Cheer League earlier this year after RYF was kicked out of its parent organization, the Candlewood Valley League, which is part of American Youth Football.
John Pavain, who heads RYF, took his group to the Fairfield County Football League.
The RFCL opens play Sunday with a pair of games at East Ridge Middle School and the FCFL gets under way next weekend. That league is staging a preseason jamboree this weekend.
"From my personal feeling, we would be better off with one (league)," Pavain said. "It creates difficulty with facilities and parents and kids making choices. It's not optimal."
Still, both men say they are happy with their situation and want to move forward rather than open old wounds.
In the spring, one of the big concerns voiced by those who objected to a second league was that it would water down the teams. However, Scalzo believes it's too early to judge the impact of a second league in a relatively small community of 25,000.
"It's a big early to tell," he said. "The overall football numbers are down a bit, but not much if you count us and RYF."
RYF has nine teams—the same number as in 2009—including two in the fifth, six and seventh grades.
According to Pavain, the overall numbers in his league are down from 265 to 190, but he indicated part of that is due to a FCFL philosophy to have smaller rosters so that everyone will see action in games.
"My feeling is that kids sign up to play and not sit on the bench," he said.
The RFCL has only two squads—an eighth-grade team with 21 players and a fifth-grade team with 13 players—which is barely enough to play. The RFCL, which will compete in the CVL, does have three cheerleading squads.
"I'm really happy with how things shook out," Scalzo said. "We got all the cheerleaders who were active last year and the coaches came as well."
Scalzo's brother Mike, who has 20 years of coaching experience and led his RYF team to a third-place win in the American Youth Football national championships last season, will coach the eighth-grade team in the RFCL and John Turner will lead the fifth graders. They both came over from RYF.
The CVL booted RYF from its organization after former board members allegedly sent e-mails asking about the possibility of forming a new league. The RFCL was unanimously accepted after re-applying to CVL.
A second league created logistical issues in terms of scheduling, and Bob Schneider, Ridgefield's assistant director for parks and recreation, said the town is in the process of hammering out the final field assignments for games.
Practices started without a hitch, Schneider said, but that's because the teams have many summer options—Scotts Ridge Middle School, Tiger Hollow, the Ridgefield High School practice field, the old high school field and East Ridge Middle School.
The options will narrow once the school year starts, and the real crunch will come when Daylight Savings Time arrives in early November. According to Schneider, at that point, there will be only two locations to practice during the week under the lights, Tiger Hollow and the old high school.
Schneider indicated that he will have to double up practices, which could create an issue since the two leagues have been reluctant to practice together.
"It's going to be tight when it gets to Daylight Savings," Schneider said. "It was tight with one organization."
CVL includes Ansonia and 17 communities in Fairfield County and Eastern New York. There are only seven towns in the FCFL—Darien, Fairfield, New Canaan, Norwalk, Ridgefield, Westport and Wilton—but some of the them are among the best football towns in the state and serve as feeder programs for the FCIAC, which arguably is the premier high school league in Connecticut.
According to Pavain, the FCFL has been actively working with the high schools and some of the high school players have helped out at practices.
"Right now, we're focused on moving forward and providing the best experience we can for our football players and cheerleaders," said Pavain, who became acting president of the RYF following the resignation of Bob Perrault.
Still, there are differences between the leagues. The FCFL is a weight-restricted league, meaning bigger players can only play certain positions, usually on the offensive and defensive lines. The CVL has no such restrictions.
The leagues also differ in terms of their philosophies with cheerleading being more important in the CVL. From Scalzo's standpoint, the CVL is more competitive and provides players with a higher quality of football and superior coaching.
"The two groups we got says a lot of what the parents care about, and I think they care about better quality of coaching," he said.
In the FCFL, there are restrictions on special teams play, including no kickoffs and no kicking for extra points. Certain offensive and defensive formations are barred and in the younger age groups, the field is only 80 yards long.
Even on the eighth-grade level, there are no kickoffs, as possessions start on the 30-yard line.
"The experience we have had with CVL and AYF has been incomparable," Scalzo said. "Our group is really focused on having a great season for the kids."