Putting Fun First
Updates to the Middle School football program have proved popular with students and parents alike—and yielded increased participation in other Middle School sports as a result.
Something new was happening on the south fields opposite the Preschool playground this past fall, and you might have noticed it if you happened to be on campus in the late afternoons—it was packed with Middle School students playing flag football. About 40 students from grades 5 and 6 participated. “In previous years we had a co-op football program with Nicolet High School,” explained Will Piper ’96, flag football coach and 5th-grade world cultural geography teacher. “But there was no flag football option, and it wasn’t super popular with parents or students.”
So Piper and others decided to re-write the book on University School’s Middle School football program. They started by creating a flag football league for 5th- and 6th-graders from USM and Milwaukee Jewish Day School, with the plan to eventually expand it to other schools. “It’s nice to be able to play with students from other smaller schools where we have more similar competition,” said Piper, “which is key to any sport.” The new program has proven popular with students and parents alike. “The flag program is nice because it’s more developmentally appropriate for the younger Middle School students,” said Piper.
In addition to the flag program, 7th- and 8th-grade tackle football players are now part of the Greater Milwaukee Metro Youth Football League, which caters to smaller schools with similar enrollments. Mike Sweet, the tackle football coach and 3rd-grade teacher, also received positive feedback from the changes to the tackle program. “The 7th- and 8th-grade tackle program is great for students who are new to football, and parents liked that everyone had a chance to play, so it was definitely positive,” he said. The new league offers students more of a competitive experience, but still emphasizes team building and having fun.
Playing sports in Middle School does much more than just give students something to do after school. “For Middle School sports, our number one goal is to have fun,” said Andy Thomson, USM’s assistant athletic director. “After that, we want students to learn the game and understand the rules. But learning how to play on a team, how to deal with other kids and have good sportsmanship, those are all skills that will be valuable as they hopefully move into Upper School athletics. In addition, they begin to see how consistent practice and playing time can really impact their ability to play well.” Other sports have benefited from the popularity of the new Middle School football program, too. “When you have a successful fall season like we did, the kids get more excited about sports and all of a sudden you see more students trying different sports,” said Piper. “My daughters (Grace ’26 and Hope ’26) are perfect examples of that. They loved flag football, and now they’re going to try intramural basketball this winter. Once you have that positive experience, it’s easy to keep the momentum going.”