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Orland Park Pioneers program
revs up for exciting season

Football players and cheerleaders ready to excel

 

By Ed Muniz
 
When the dog days of summer hit their stride, it signals the beginning of the football season at all levels. 
 
Training camps have begun for the professionals, while colleges and high schools are on the cusp of their first games.
 
The Orland Park Pioneers are also in pads now and will begin their River Valley Youth Football League season this Saturday as they host the Bourbonnais Bears at Sandburg High School.
 
Competing in their second season in the RVYFL, expectations for organization president John Stefanos are at a high but a cautious one. 
 
After capturing a 2015 national championship at the Varsity level, expectations are heightened. But with several changes in the coaching ranks, coordinating new staffs; along with coaching new and returning players to compete as a team, the Pioneers do have a lot of work ahead.
 
Their premiere season in the league saw the Pioneers get their feet wet in the more difficult and competitive league, resulting in no championships or finalists, after having several finalist and two champions the previous season.
 
 
“Most of the program is staying the same with just a few changes,” said Stefanos. “We will have four teams in the tackle portion and another four in our flag program. 
 
"Our biggest change this year and the one I’m looking forward to is an upgrade in our Wednesday League, which I’m spearheading this year for the league.”
 
Last year the RVYFL began play in the Wednesday League. This was a mid-week game strictly held for the boys who didn’t get much time on the field during their scheduled league games. Not all the programs participated in the midweek games due to shortened rosters.
 
Last year the midweek games were handled much like a scrimmage -- with 20 plays on both offense and defense. This year the contests will be full games with officials, scoring and standings which will conclude in a playoff at the end of the year. Nine teams will participate beginning Aug 17.
 
Stefanos is happy with the Pioneers numbers for the upcoming season, even though programs across the league have seen their participation numbers drop.
 

“We have very good-size teams this year,” he said. “We are very pleased with the amount of kids that want to play football, especially at the Varsity level. On all teams we are looking forward to the year. We have a good mix of athleticism and size. Without out a doubt (it’s) the largest group as in size we’ve ever had.”
 
The Orland Park program's efforts from staff and coaches and the end results haven’t gone unnoticed. Many local Catholic high schools have shown a definite interest in the talent the Pioneers are producing. 
 
Marist, Mt. Carmel, Providence and St. Rita are among the schools that regularly attend games looking for a blue-chip player.
 
“It seems year after year, we are getting to the point where our kids are getting a lot of notice from the Catholic schools in the area and we are really proud of that,” added Stefanos.
 
The Pioneers success isn’t only in the tackle portion of the football program. Flag football has taken off.
 
Last year the Pioneers added flag football with a pair of teams. This season they will field four teams under the guidance of Joe Hallberg.
 
“We are excited to see our kids in flag take the field. We lost the numbers in the super lightweight tackle division but picked up those kids in flag so I expect we will be very competitive throughout the league,” Stefanos said.
 
Coaching-wise, the Pioneers are loaded. With four teams in both tackle and flag, coaching staffs were essentially doubled up from last year in the tackle teams.
 
“The great part about it is we are able to combine staffs, and we have outstanding staffs. Having combined teams from last year, the returning players are still being coached by the same coaches and that’s a good thing with our teams being so large this year.
 
“It’s hard to find quality and knowledgeable coaches especially when you need so many, so keeping those you have had and asking them to now work together can be difficult. But fortunately we have a great group of volunteers and coaches which is what makes any program great, and we have that. We are lucky in that way.”
 
The Pioneer president also added another factor he felt was a key to the program’s success -- working together with parents so they felt their kids were being properly coached.
 
Jim Roche will head the Varsity Pioneers. Veteran Mike Mikesell will lead the JV team. The lightweights will be under the direction of co-head coaches Ken Stack and Larry Tischer, and the Super Lightweights will see the familiar face of Todd Shelton.
 
With great leadership both on the field and behind the scenes, the Orland Park Pioneers are looking forward to their second season in the very competitive River Valley Youth Football League. And even though there were some changes, look for the Pioneers to vie for championships at multiple levels.
 
The Pioneers program is also a well-oiled machine when it comes to spirit on the sidelines. Orland Park features some of the best cheerleaders in the area. Under the leadership of Kim Dombrowski, the Pioneers cheerleaders have excelled and solidified their reputation as a premier rec squad.
 

 
The Pioneers are so good they could easily compete and succeed against competition squads. The 120-member group is busy practicing the routines which will culminate in an end of the year league competition where they have a history of collecting multiple championships in numerous age-groups.
 
The Pioneer Cheerleaders will be even busier as they cheer on the players and keep fans entertained not only at the tackle events but at the flag games as well.
 
“I think it’s gonna work out well with our girls out there cheering on the flag players and bringing them in with a feel of truly being part of the program,” said Dombrowski.
 
If you live in Orland Park, it’s a must-see to watch the routine the Pioneer Cheerleaders put together for their Homecoming event. Each year the whole program performs at halftime of every game. 
 
The Pioneers usually end the year with their league competition. This season it’s on November 13. But they have decided to entertain thoughts of participating in an additional competition.
 
“This organization has normally been just a rec squad for football with a huge homecoming production,” said Dombrowski. “Most squads don’t do what we do, and that’s what we spend our time on initially.
 
“Other squads start on their competition routines on day one where we work on our sideline, halftime and homecoming routines. That takes us to mid-September which then gives us less than two months to learn competition routines. 
 
“We want to girls to use their skills more than once so that’s why we are looking to add another cheer competition.”
 
With the majority of the cheerleading coaches returning and addition of junior coaches and cheer moms, the Pioneers are once again in good hands. That could once again bring them trophies in November.
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule