EJFL History, from the memory of Mr. Bill Miller
Evansville Junior Football League was organized in 1968, by Mr. Bill Miller.
Mr. Miller has shared his vision of his ten years in the program. It was a drive home from St. Louis, with his wife, when he discussed with her the lack of an organized football organization in Evansville, for boys prior to entering the 7th grade. The league was to be geared towards boys of age 10 – 11 years of age. Carmel, Indiana and Owensboro both had leagues and wanted to travel, but the two didn’t feel it was in the boys’ best interest to take it to that level. This league was built for instruction, and to better prepare them for high school football.
A phone call to Mr. Don Watson was all it took. Mr. Watson, the following day, went to four local banking institutions within Evansville, and came back with $4000.00 worth of donations to start the league. West Civitan was involved back then. News Anchor Mike Blake came to a Civitan meeting and interviewed Mr. Miller about the up and coming junior league football program, and the league plan.
It was 1969, when the first Evansville Junior Football League was held. There were two divisions in Evansville originally, and in 1972, a third league was added – West, East, and North. The North played behind the old Rex Mundi school, which is now Ivy Tech on First Avenue, and was headed by Mr. Bud Downen. The East played where Swonder Ice Rink now stands, headed by Mr. Miller; and the West played in the field just east of Helfrich Park School, led by Dr. Victor Johnson. Mr. Fisher sold equipment for Beard’s Sporting Goods, which was instrumental to the organization in outfitting the teams.
There were four teams in each division, consisting of 25 players, allowing only 100 young men to participate in each division. Each team required tryouts. The donations were used to purchase equipment for each, and every, player. The first ten years, there were no registration fees. Players received practice uniforms, game uniforms, individual pictures and one team picture. Two or three years later, two more teams were added to each division, allowing the participation to grow to 150 for each.
The weight limits also played an integral part in participation. The max weight for a ball carrier was 105 pounds, with a minimum of 78 pounds to play. Anything over 105 pounds was on the line, and no player could weigh more than 120 pounds. Coaches selected players based on evaluation drills, much as we do today. Practice was allowed at one and a half hours per day, during the week. No player could participate on a team coached by their father.
Each division played head to head within their location, to qualify for the Cereal Bowl, through playoffs. The first Cereal Bowl was held at Reitz Bowl, with more than 4000 spectators. The second season was played at Enlow Field.
In the beginning, there weren’t a lot of the problems that we face today. More than anything, the goal was to focus on the coaches to assure no one child was isolated. Everyone deserved a fighting chance. Definitely a moto we still live by today!
In the beginning, each team has their own set of Cheerleaders. The Cheerleaders also participated in a Queen Contest. Mrs. Suzanne Miller, Bill’s daughter, was one of the young ladies crowned as Queen by Mayor Russell Lloyd, in the 1970’s. Mrs. Carol Jones made all the cheerleader uniforms by hand.
A few of the others, who deserve honorable mention are:
Mr. Charlie Qualls – passed away 2/1/2006
Mr. Bobby Imel – passed away 7/27/2011
Mr. Archi Owen – passed away 11/29/1998
Dr. Victor Johnson – passed away 7/27/2008
After one year, Mr. Miller contacted the Chicago Bulls who set up an exhibition game with the Bulls vs Cincinnati Royals. Jerry Sloan, played for the Chicago Bulls, and Oscar Robertson played for the Cincinnati Royals, at that time. The exhibition game was set up, at the expense of EJFL, and the proceeds went to benefit the Cereal Bowl. High school referees donated their time, and many others donated to help the fundraiser be a remarkable success for the league.
The year 2019 will be the 50th year birthday for Evansville Junior Football League, as it remains the oldest and most successful league in all of Evansville.