---- — Dan Garrett began working with the Effingham Junior Football League in 1989, the second year of the city's football league.
He enjoyed watching the kids play the game of football and develop their skills.
Now, as the league prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary Saturday at Effingham High School, he still sees some of those kids from the '80s and '90s-- as they watch their own kids play in today's league.
"We are actually coaching kids today that were kids in the program when they were kids," said Garrett, who is in his second term as the JFL president. "We're into our second generation."
The league has blossomed from its initial roots of seventh and eighth grade teams with no conference, to full programs for the fifth and sixth grades as well as a conference of seven other teams. Scott Mosher founded the league in 1988, serving as its president until 1991 when Garrett took over. He left in 1998, and came back last year after Rick Schmidt stepped down as president.
The JFL had its annual season-starting Jamboree last Saturday, featuring 10 minute scrimmages on both offense and defense. The season proper begins Saturday afternoon, with Effingham taking on Charleston in all four grade levels.
The fifth-graders kick things off at 10 a.m. and the sixth-graders play at 12 p.m. After the sixth-grade game, the JFL is hosting a ceremony for any of its alumni from throughout its 25 years of existance.
"All (former) players, coaches, board members," said JFL vice president Kathleen Smith. "Anybody that's had a hand in it, we just want to get some recognition. It takes a lot to put this program on."
The seventh-grade game will begin at 2:30 p.m. and the eighth-grade will close week one at 4:30 p.m.
This year's group includes 168 participants, including the four football teams and their cheerleaders.
It's quite a far cry from the 1988 league and its two teams, and the growth was something that hadn't even occured to Garrett early on as they tried to fulfill their goals.
"I don't know (if) I ever thought about it," he said. "It was built to help Effingham High School, not directly associated with the high school. But we've definitely helped the high school program through teaching them."
Effingham plays five home four home games. After Saturday's game with Charleston, they host Mt. Vernon on Aug. 24, Taylorville on Sept. 21 and the Decatur Generals on Sept. 28.
Confirmed road games include a trip to Mt. Zion on Aug. 31, a game with the Decatur Panthers on Sept. 7 and a matchup with Mattoon on Sept. 14.
There are other events planned at the celebration, including raffles and carnival games.
But as it has been for 24 years past, the event is about football and helping the kids of Effingham learn the on-field strategy and the off-field benefits of football.
"I think it's awesome," Smith said. "I've been here for about five years. It's a great opportunity to get so involved with the kids. We teach them a lot, responsibility and discipline. They're with us five out of seven days of the week, July through October."