Inland Lakes 5th/6th grade team to compete in Youth Football Championships

Inland Lakes 5th/6th grade team to compete in Youth Football Championships

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Story Courtesy of Cheboygan News

After four highly successful seasons, it’s pretty safe to say youth football in Indian River is at its highest point ever.

INDIAN RIVER — When Jim Fenstermaker started coaching Inland Lakes youth football four years ago, he already had it all laid out.

“Four years ago, I told them (Inland Lakes Youth Football board) about my philosophy for the program — and they kind’ve just turned it over to me,” recalled Fenstermaker, an Onaway High School graduate and former player.

After four highly successful seasons, it’s pretty safe to say youth football in Indian River is at its highest point ever.

Because of that, the Bulldogs will get to showcase themselves on one of the biggest stages youth football has to offer.

The Inland Lakes 5th/6th grade football team will compete in the World Youth Football Championships at the Pro Football Hall of Fame field in Canton, OH., this upcoming weekend.

The Bulldogs will be the lone team from the state of Michigan to play in the 11-Under Division. Inland Lakes was nominated for the tournament following three consecutive undefeated seasons and three Northwest Youth Football Conference titles.

Whether it’s playing in Northern Michigan or downstate against more elite competition, the Bulldogs have recorded a 36-4 record over the last four seasons.

With the success they’ve had, the Bulldogs have become well-known all over the state.

“An all-star team that we had played eventually nominated us to play in this game, and with the nomination the Hall of Fame directors got ahold of me — and I had to submit game tapes, they had to look at our record and everything, how we are as a squad and what we do in our own league — to be able to qualify us,” Fenstermaker said. “That’s basically how we got qualified, and they have a watch list of 100-plus teams out of every state, and we’re ranked No. 1 on their watch list out of Michigan.

“We had to go through every team in our league. There’s 11 teams in the Northwest Conference, and you have to at minimum do that to qualify for Canton. It’s been a pretty crazy journey.”

As for how they got this far, Fenstermaker believes it was a combination of things.

“It’s just an unbelievable group of kids,” Fenstermaker said. “They love the sport. I believe in the life lesson that they get out of what we’re doing. It’s more than just football on a football field, and the kids realize that. It’s a family thing now. It’s unbelievable to see all the passion the community has for the sport.

“It’s just really about the kids believing in what we’re doing. The coaching staff, the parents who get them to practices, to have everybody on the same page is great. Everybody is striving for the same goal to go as far as we can.”

Though the Bulldogs qualified for the event, they needed to find a way to raise money to make it down to Canton.

Over the previous four weeks, the Bulldogs have raised over $10,000 by having can drives, helping clear tables at Breakers Bar, picking up grapes at a winery and selling popcorns. Other businesses in the community have also donated, in addition to the team having a GoFundMe page.

“It’s been crazy from the local businesses helping us and Breakers and the personal individuals who donated to the GoFundMe,” Fenstermaker said. “Christopher’s Cafe and the list goes on and on. There’s been unbelievable amounts of support, and individuals that reached out and donated for us. We didn’t ask for just donations, these kids earned it. They went to Breakers and served food and earned their tips, so the lesson they got out of that was pretty awesome. You work for everything you get. The community has been very supportive. It’s just a big thank you to the support of the community. From our board and other boards and parents who helped make this happen.”

The team is scheduled to leave town for Canton on Thursday. The Bulldogs will face opponents on Friday and Saturday.

Fenstermaker isn’t too worried about how his team reacts to the bright lights, mainly because the Bulldogs have been in positions like this before.

“I think there will be some nerves, but we played at Ford Field last year,” Fenstermaker said. “We played at Ford Field, so that’s an 80,000-plus crowd that we played in front of. We played down in Grand Rapids at a state level tournament, playing some of the best teams in the state. We’ve been on some pretty big stages, but this will definitely be the biggest, there’s no doubt about it. I’m hoping that we prepared them well over the last couple of years, doing some travel ball and playing some schools and bigger teams.”

Members of the Inland Lakes 5th/6th grade team include Tyler Kolly, Luke Robiadek, Jason Dutcher, Aidan Fenstermaker, Justin McManemy, Zavier Thompson, Andre Bradford, Lawerence Prieskorn, Cameron Kettle, Dominic Smart, Wyatt Hanel, Mason Green, Aidan Drake, Lelin Splan, Joshua Barr, Ryker Thompson, Mitchell Crawford, MaKenna Larkin, Chase Waldie, Eyvn Watson, Avery Enos, Cash DePauw, Dawson Brown, Jack Wilson, Rylen Friske, Logan McMullen, Walker Crawford, Landen Dege, Dylan Zinke, David Buhr, Eli Foldenauer, Ashton Friske, Evan Milbourne, Ryan Croff and Chris Foldenauer. Inland Lakes is coached by Jim Fenstermaker, Tim Wilson, Bobby Fenstermaker, Darren O’Boyle, Beau DePauw and Mark Hayner.

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