KINSMAN - Before the junior varsity game (9 to 10 year olds) against Newton Falls at Kinsman Township Park on Sept. 28, Badger Youth Football hosted its annual Homecoming, inviting alumni to walk onto the field wearing their current football jerseys.
Instead of wearing the traditional red and white associated with Badger, there were high-school athletes wearing the white away uniforms with navy-gold trim of Brookfield, the black-and-white uniforms of Mathews and a few red-and-navy uniforms of John F. Kennedy, with others sprinkled in as well.
It's a day that brings with it a bag of mixed emotions. The players remember the good times of playing for the Braves and getting to the chance to hang out with their old teammates.
"I miss it a lot," said Mathews sophomore Robbie Helmick, having played three years in the Badger organization. "That's some of the greatest football I've ever played, most fun, best learning experience I've ever had."
While for some, it was a tough decision to leave, for others, like Brookfield sophomore Marc Kraml, it was quite easy because he had the opportunity to pursue the sport beyond his three years in the Badger Youth program.
"I didn't think it was too tough," Kraml said. "I just wanted to play somewhere - I didn't care where it was. I hope we're setting an example and letting the school know what they're missing, how many kids are leaving to play football and what's going to happen to theses kids."
Seth Morgan, a freshman at Garfield, echoed Kraml's sentiments. He said a football program could thrive in Kinsman.
"Even though we don't have a middle school or high school team, this is a football town," Morgan said. "People would come. The games would be packed. Everyone wants to see football. I felt like if they would have started it, a lot of people would have stayed and we would have had a good program. We have a lot of good athletes that've left."
Not every alumnus or alumnae wore the colors of another school, however, as some stayed in the Joseph Badger school district - whether by choice or by circumstance.
Senior Cory Bloss was one of those who stayed within the district for junior high and high school. Bloss never played a down after sixth grade because he couldn't get transportation to go to another school, otherwise he said he would have left in a flash.
The senior now studies auto collision at the Trumbull Career and Technical Center in Champion.
"This was the greatest experience I ever had," said Bloss of his time with the Badger youth organization. "I made so many friends, had such a good time. All of these guys are so nice and they know what they're doing."
Bloss decided to not play any sports after getting a taste for football, saying nothing matched the enjoyment he got from being on the gridiron.
"Not anymore," Bloss said. "Once I got out of (football), I didn't want to play much of anything else. There was no point. I mean, I had a lot of fun doing this, and there was nothing else that was really there."
While many of these players separated when some went away to pursue football opportunities, the camaraderie between the players hasn't disappeared. Many still talk whenever they run into each other in town and hang out from time to time.
"I talk to all of them as much as I see them," Bloss said. "I'll give them a handshake, a high-five, ask 'What's up?' and how their season's going, how things have been, then comment on how I used to be the biggest kid in our football organization, and then they kept growing."
Although the players are still connected to each other, they've moved on from the Badger school district and are content with the decisions they made.
"I'm glad I made the move," Morgan said.