Last August, the city of Clearfield told the Wasatch Front Football League it was going to stop running youth football through the city’s recreation department.
Once the season ended, questions flew about what the future of youth football in Clearfield would be.
Parents have an answer now after the Salt Lake City-based Ute Conference officially established a youth football division in the city in January.
Clearfield’s youth football programs have been part of the WFFL for years and competed against teams in close proximity.
Now they’ll compete against youth football teams in south Davis County, Salt Lake County, Tooele County and parts of Utah County in the Ute Conference.
Clearfield’s closest opponent is a team formed in Northridge High’s boundaries. After that, the closest teams are in Farmington, Centerville, Bountiful and Woods Cross.
Geography is the biggest change among several, including a much higher cost per player and how the season operates. But there’s some excitement coming from the creation of the new Clearfield division.
“The exciting part is these kids aren’t going to be forgotten,” said Chris Tremea, president of the newly formed Clearfield Ute Conference Youth Football League. “We’re building not only for this year, we’re building a program for generations to come and it’s going to be from first grade all the way up to the high school programs which would benefit everybody.”
After geography, the biggest change is youth football is going to be more expensive in the Ute Conference, which doesn’t subsidize the program like city rec departments do.
Tremea and Ute Conference executive director Jeff Gorringe said Clearfield’s fees likely will be around $250 per player, where previous fees through the city of Clearfield were approximately $135-$150 per player. The new youth football division has to pay for things like equipment, field rentals, storage, etc.
Clearfield community services director Eric Howes wrote in an email that the city will still offer recreation grants (scholarships) to kids who want to play football. The grants cover 75% of registration costs for those who qualify, which are typically people with low income.
Gorringe added that any kid who wants to play will have an opportunity to play.
Other changes with the move to the Ute Conference include different boundary rules and league setup.
WFFL youth football programs are mostly run through city recreation departments; kids generally play in the city where they live.
Ute Conference districts are arranged by high school boundaries: kids play where they’ll eventually go to high school (assuming they don’t move or transfer beforehand), and high school boundaries don’t always align with city boundaries.
After five games of the season, UC divisions are realigned for the final three games of the regular season to match good teams against good teams, bad teams against bad teams and so on.
Ute Conference teams generally matched up so-called ‘A’ teams against other ‘A’ teams already — the WFFL does not — but the mid-season realignment was piloted last summer and brought a new level of excitement to games later in the year, Gorringe said.
“What happened is after we played five games, then we played three games; at that reset, our margin of victory really started shrinking,” Gorringe said.
As for why the city of Clearfield went with the Ute Conference instead of the WFFL, Howes wrote that it was a parent and coach-led initiative after the city decided to discontinue football as a city-run program.
“It wasn’t a technical vote, but the parent group asked a lot of people involved in recreation what they wanted to do and there was kind of three choices: the WFFL, the Ute Conference or start up their own independent football teams,” Tremea said. “They didn’t do the independent teams because of the insurance and liability, they didn’t like the WFFL’s determination of where kids can play and it be city-regulated.”
The main issue with the WFFL is Clearfield kids wouldn’t have been guaranteed a spot in other cities, whose rec departments aren’t obligated to take in non-boundary kids.
When the city of Clearfield initially discontinued football, it was shortly before the season started and, out of grace and being a good neighbor on such a time crunch, other city recreation departments absorbed most of the Clearfield kids who wanted to play.
“We have a precedent for non-resident players playing in a neighboring association,” WFFL president Dave Stireman said in January. “For example in South Ogden’s association, Uintah’s unincorprated but by the boundaries they play in South Ogden — but because they’re not in the city boundaries, South Ogden charges $20 more per kid for Uintah kids.”
Ogden City Recreation took in one whole Clearfield team in 2020, West Point took in nine players and various neighboring rec departments took in anywhere from one to several Clearfield kids.
The team that played in Ogden was coached by Tony Belford, who said Ogden City Recreation was “amazing through the whole thing,” but that it was tough for the kids to deal with.
One Clearfield parent, Staci Rude, had a child on the Ogden team and another child playing on a Kaysville team last summer/fall.
“They hated it, they hated the drive. I was driving kids back and forth myself,” Belford said.
The WFFL tried to work out a solution to keep the Clearfield kids in the league going forward, a solution that wouldn’t involve sending Clearfield kids all over Weber and Davis County. One idea was to work out some sort of agreement with a neighboring city rec department to take in some or all the Clearfield kids.
Nothing materialized by the time the city and the Ute Conference — they had been talking to each other since at least the fall, according to city council minutes from November — reached an agreement.
“If it were that easy it would’ve been done by now,” Stireman said.
Clearfield’s reasoning for discontinuing youth football through its recreation department was that it wasn’t recouping enough money, according to a post on its Facebook page in October that generated a lot of social media backlash.
Howes wrote in an email that participation in the youth football league in Clearfield has dropped steadily since 2017, though parents and coaches said the city hardly advertised youth football signups.
In 2019, the city recouped 42% of its money spent in the youth football program whereas the Jr. Jazz basketball program recouped 114%, Howes wrote.
A comment made by the city’s Facebook page in October read that the city operates many services and programs that don’t recoup 100% of money; however, the city starts looking at programs that consistently recoup 50% or less year-after-year to see if it’s responsible to continue running them.
The city will still be somewhat involved with the Ute Conference district, though.
Both Howes and Tremea confirmed Clearfield is donating football equipment — already purchased by taxpayer funds — to the newly formed youth football district, with the expectation that the Ute Conference district will foot the bill for future equipment.
The city normally charges fees to rent its fields; Howes wrote that those fees will be waived for the football district in 2021.
Howes wrote that the city is saving more than $36,000 by not operating football and intends to offer more outdoor recreation programming in 2021 with that money, though specifics haven’t been announced yet.