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Coach Roche's Pioneer players hitting the sled hard during practice on Aug. 12.

Orland Park enters new league for 2015 season

Pioneers football and cheer teams ready to compete

Story and photos by Ed Muniz

ORLAND PARK -- From youth football to the pro level, the thumping sounds of pads and helmets colliding signal that football season is nearly upon us.
The Orland Park Pioneers Football and Cheer organization is already deep into the instructional portion of their schedule. This year marks a new beginning, of sorts, for the Pioneers. The program left behind some of its previous foes and rivalries when it departed the Southwest Junior Midget Football League and entered into the River Valley Youth Football League.
The RVYFL consists of 15 programs and stretches west to Ottawa. It includes some old rivals -- Homer, Frankfort Square, Mokena and Tinley Park -- who also switched to the league.
Some programs have enough participants to form multiple teams at certain weights. That's the case with the Pioneers, who will field eight tackle teams and two flag squads. Overall there will be 22 teams in the tackling portion of the league; it's divided into Scarlet and White divisions.
The super lightweight Pioneers get instruction at practice on Aug. 12 in Orland Park.
“We felt it was time to make a move and look at a league option that would fit our program a little better than what we have had in the past,” said Pioneer President John Stefanos. "The SWJMFL worked out well, but we wanted something more than what we were getting, and it got to where we needed a better fit for us. We found that in the River Valley.
“We like that this league offers a fifth quarter. It’s a 20-24 minute scrimmage prior to the actual game specifically for those players who are in development or just beginning their football careers and wouldn’t get much playing time during the game. 
"We also have a Wednesday game for those same players, and it is a regular game with quarters and full refs. We will be hosting three games every Wednesday night for seven weeks, so we’re excited about that” 
With 12 teams in the Wednesday night league, the Pioneers second unit players will see plenty of action, and that will satisfy many parents and coaches. 
The Pioneers bucked a trend with an increase in participants this year. 
“We’re proud of the fact that most youth football organizations are dropping in numbers, but this year we have the most kids participating in the last seven years," Stefanos said. "We have 10 teams this year and started a new flag football program. We have 270 football players this year, an increase from the 230 of last year.”
Varsity players drilling on staying low at practice on Aug. 12.
Along with new players, the Pioneers will feature several new coaches on the sidelines this season. The first-year head coaches include: Ken Dado, Todd Skelton and Rick Iannantone. They join returning coaches: Tom McCauliffe, Mark Mikesell, Jim Roche, Ken Stack and Frank Edelen. 
Veteran coaches are also joining the program.
“We are really excited about two new great additions to our coaching staff," said Stefano. "Jim McDonough, who coaches at Reavis High School, will be helping out Ken Dado at the super lightweight Scarlett team. Jim Zimmer, from Andrew High School, will also help in the program. Both are bringing a lot of experience and new ideas. Couldn’t be happier!”
The Pioneers are hoping for another big year. In 2014 the program sent an unprecedented four teams to SWJMFL championship games.  
“We’ve got great coaching and great kids and a huge volunteer participation from our parents which is what makes our program special," Stefanos said. "We feel we will be quite competitive, but it will be new for us as the weights have changed from our previous years. 
"We don’t have the really big kids at the varsity level so we will have to get those kids moving forward, but I think we will do well, and we look forward to the competition this year."
Pioneer cheerleaders get some running in during their preseason practice Aug. 12.
The Pioneers cheer operation is under the guidance of second-year head coordinator Kim Dombrowski. After a stellar season last year -- the Pioneers squads dominated the league competition -- changing leagues won’t change their expectations of excellence.
The numbers have been steady and fans can expect another 140-plus turnout of girls working as hard as the boys on the field. 
With top notch coaching from cheer moms to high school volunteer junior coaches, look for the quality to continue and deliver a bevy of trophies at years end.
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule