After operating for seven years in the mountaintop community, Signal Mountain Tackle Football won't see its eighth season, at least not this fall.
According to SMTF officials, there were not enough kids signed up in order to run the league this year, though they hope to hold sign-ups again next year.
SMTF officials attribute the lack of players to a decision made by the Signal Mountain Town Council early last spring that allowed the Scenic City Youth Football League to use town field space for local tackle football players ages 5-12. At that time, Council members voted unanimously to create a "free market" situation between the two leagues. The town's Recreation Board had recommended to the Council that it continue to allow the Scenic City league to only operate with players 5-8 years old, as it had during the 2012 season.
When the decision was made, Council members said they weren't choosing one league over the other. (Refer to previous coverage at community.timesfreepress.com/news/2013/mar/06/council-allows-free-market-among-signal-mountain-f.)
"I can't speak for the entire Council, but parents can make the decision on where their kids should play," Councilman Bill Wallace said in a recent phone interview. "I don't believe the town should make those decisions. The leagues are going to survive on the merits of the league - I don't really see where the town fits in it."
Todd Phillips of the Scenic City league said its numbers have nearly tripled this season, from 44 players last year, with players from 5-8 years old, to 115 players this year, now with players from 5-10 years old. The league is separated into teams by age.
"It's 100 percent because parents want their kids to play with kids their own age," said Phillips. "They get to play 12 leagues all over Chattanooga. It's a total night and day experience [from SMTF].
"We did all sorts of accommodations [for SMTF]," he added. "We encouraged people who wanted to play in that league if it was still going to exist," Phillips said, explaining that sign-up fees from parents wavering between the two leagues weren't collected until it was sure SMTF wouldn't be operating this year. "We actually even sent people their [SMTF's] way who said they didn't want to have to travel off the mountain."
A concern recently expressed by SMTF officials as well as former SMTF coach and Recreation Board member Chris Howley is that with the SMTF league shut down for the year, there are kids in the community who want to play football but won't be able to.
"Our job being on the town Rec Board is to be inclusive to every kid on the mountain," said Howley, adding that he thinks it was ideal to have both leagues operating with separate age groups, as they did during the 2012 season. "There are less kids on the mountain playing football now. To be fair, the year before that, when there was only Signal Mountain Tackle Football, there were less kids playing then."
Howley, who works closely with the Signal Mountain Middle School football team, also said SMTF has been a feeder program for the SMMS program, but that doesn't mean Scenic City league players can't also feed into it once they enter middle school.
Scenic City has been described as a select, traveling league, but Phillips denied that, saying the league doesn't hold tryouts and is "not a select, competitive thing."
"No one is being left out of playing football," he said, adding that the league didn't close its registration until Sunday, Aug. 25 to allow more time for players to sign up after SMTF announced the cancellation of its season.
"We applaud the town for giving parents a choice," Phillips said.