SILER CITY — It’s been 43 years and counting since the last school-sanctioned football program at a Chatham County middle school.
And barring any unexpected announcements, that isn’t changing anytime soon.
A group in Siler City, however, is aiming to fill the void by giving players an alternative.
Ryan Johnson, head football coach at Jordan-Matthews High School, is leading the charge on a brand new football team called the Siler City Jets, a 14U program that has its sights set on beginning play this fall.
Despite the team’s branding, it has no affiliation with the already existing Siler City Jets — a member of the Quad County Recreational Football League for ages 6-12— but instead acts as a branch of Pittsboro’s East Chatham Chargers, which plays its games in the East Wake Football League.
“We’re working toward the ultimate goal of every school having middle school football, period,” Johnson told the News + Record, “but this is an avenue that the East Chatham Chargers have allowed us to be under their umbrella and have this opportunity.”
As it stands now, players in Siler City are unable to play football once they turn 13 years old because that’s when they “age out” of the Jets’ organization. That means that if athletes want to continue playing and avoid a two-year gap before high school, they’re forced to either make the cross-county trek to Pittsboro to play for the Chargers or take their talents outside of Chatham.
For Johnson — a Siler City native that was hired to coach his alma mater in 2021 — those players having the opportunity to stay in Siler City and compete in their hometown is the focal point of why he helped co-found the team.
“We really wanted to make sure that the guys that are aged out of the recreation department had other options,” Johnson said, “and that you don’t need to leave your home school or your friends or transfer to other schools because we want to keep you here. That’s the biggest part.”
While Johnson was brainstorming the idea for the team last year, he reached out to Chasidy Parker, the president of the East Chatham Chargers, to try and find out how her organization’s been so successful.
From there, he realized there was value in creating the Jets underneath the Chargers’ umbrella, so he asked Parker if it would be possible, and after some consideration from their board, it became official.
Perhaps most importantly, the Jets won’t be required to conform to the Chargers’ branding — good news for Johnson, who grew up playing in the Northwood/Jordan-Matthews rivalry.
“She said, ‘Hey, we will accept you under our name and we’ll allow you to be the Siler City Jets and you won’t even have to wear green,’” Johnson said with a laugh. “She’s just been phenomenal, she’s been great, communicating daily with us about this.”
In their inaugural season, the Jets will join the Chargers as members of the EWFL, where they’ll play against at least three other teams — the Durham Firebirds, Fuquay Varina Bengals and Raleigh Revolution — in a nine-week regular season beginning in late August with games taking place each Saturday.
Their home games will be played at Jordan-Matthews’ football stadium, another plus for players and fans based in Siler City.
And so far, the team’s drawn plenty of interest.
At the first information meeting in J-M’s cafeteria last Thursday evening, Johnson said there were at least 20 players and their families in attendance, citing a sense of excitement around the team already.
“It went well, but it was kind of an informal meeting because some things still need to be tightened up, but we just wanted to give them information so they could see what’s going on and give them a platform to ask questions,” Johnson said. “It was a good turnout.”
As important as this is for middle schoolers across Siler City, who will finally have the chance to play football just miles from their homes, it’s also a major upgrade for J-M’s program.
“It’s going to be huge because their won’t be a void there,” Johnson said, while also mentioning that there are already talks of running a coaches clinic in the spring to help teach coaches J-M’s system.
His plan is to gather the coaches from Siler City Parks and Recreation — from both Siler City Jets organizations — and develop offensive and defensive systems that players will already be familiar with when they get to J-M their freshman year.
“If you research the most successful programs … the base system, offense and defense, those kids know that when they get to high school,” Johnson said. “We’re all responsible for their success on the field, so if we’re on the same page, it makes things a lot easier. … It’s huge to have that consistency across the board.”
His clinics will be a way for coaches to communicate, learn from one another and discover the best ways to prepare their athletes for the next level of football.
While there may still be plenty of details to iron out, Johnson mentioned that the general timeline has a formal interest meeting planned for sometime in March, followed by registration in May.
“I’m excited, man,” Johnson said, “because it’s something that needs to be there. To me, it’s a no-brainer. … This should have been done a long time ago. And to be able to come back home and be able to assist and put this in place, I’m pumped.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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