In January 2023, Jeana Bain founded Team Zone Athletics with the goals of supporting existing youth football programs in the Joliet, Ill. area and uniting the community behind the push to provide young athletes with fun, exciting opportunities through sports.
Team Zone took a unique approach to establish a program that included over 220 athletes from Pre-K through eighth grade and more than 50 high schoolers in its first season. Bain and her husband Brian used their connections in the youth football space as longtime football volunteers to help local programs introduce or keep their kids in the sport.
“My husband and I helped grow a football and cheer program for roughly nine years,” Bain explained. “We saw the need for flag football and how it helped grow that program. Our thought was if we did that for one program, let’s try to do that for all the programs in the area. That way you can introduce more young athletes to the game. A lot of local programs that offer tackle football and cheer have teams in our flag program. This allows new flag players to meet coaches and friends that they can continue working with if they decide to eventually play tackle football.”
Team Zone’s approach takes the logistical and financial burden of running a spring flag football program off the shoulders of local youth leagues. Organizations are welcome to sign up full teams so their kids can continue developing alongside friends and learning from their usual coaches. Athletes can also sign up individually to form new teams.
“It’s a lot of work for organizations to run a tackle season in the fall and turn around to run a flag season in the spring,” Bain said. “We took over a lot of that work. Now local organizations can bring their teams and have that positive experience without the added stress of having to organize and run a program.”
Team Zone stresses the importance of community values and inclusivity. Having fun and learning take priority over winning. True to its slogan, “Get in the Game,” Team Zone requires all kids have the opportunity to play a minimum of 20 minutes per game. Teams are co-ed, meaning girls also have a path to the gridiron.
Bain also understands the importance of giving back to the community and making youth sports financially accessible. That’s why Team Zone donated over $22,000 in its inaugural season, including more than $16,000 that went back to youth organizations. Volunteer coaches received more than $2,000 combined as a show of appreciation, and Team Zone partnered with the Joliet Park District, which received a $2,500 donation.
“We know how much of an impact the game makes on these kids. We even gave money back to some teams upfront to make signing up affordable,” Bain said. “It’s important for us to see many kids having good experiences in sports. We want people to know that Team Zone is about giving back and watching these kids grow as they have fun.”
Local coaches were appreciative of Team Zone’s generosity and organized approach to its first season. Several coaches weighed in with testimonials for Bain.
“I had a lot of fun coaching the kids and watching the other games,” said Joliet Titans Coach William Bills. “I know a lot of kids enjoyed it and we look forward to continuing to be a part of Team Zone going forward.”
“I think what you’re doing is great,” said Lockport Jr. Porters Coach Wes Ramirez. “From giving back to organizations and just being organized and well-managed. I know you have prior experience, and you can tell! Thanks for letting us be a small part and we look forward to more years after this. We would love to get a few more Jr. Porter teams in for next year. Thanks again!”
“Thanks again for organizing such a well-run and fun league that gives back to the community,” said Plainfield Jr. Cats Coach Andy Baum. “We all really enjoyed the season.”
For the safety and development of their athletes, Team Zone paid for all its coaches to receive USA Football Youth Coach Certifications. Their coaches joined the more than one million leaders in football who have completed USA Football’s accredited certification process since the Indianapolis-based non-profit’s inception.
“When we were involved with running a tackle and cheer program, all of the coaches were certified. That’s how we were introduced to USA Football,” said Bain. “We really believe in USA Football’s coach certification because it shows families that we are committed to safety and that we want to do things the right way. We want kids to learn from coaches. If coaches are certified, they’re going to be teaching kids the right way. That’s very important.”
Building a successful flag football program in just a few months took a lot of time, but Bain believes her efforts are already benefiting the community and providing a positive example for her two sons and daughter.
“It has been one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my life, but I wanted to show my kids that women can do great things in the sports world and run a business,” Bain said. “My husband and I wanted to show our kids that when you’re honest and deliver on promises, you’re going to succeed. We persevered through a lot, but in the end it’s worth it. When I go to games and see kids having fun and making memories, I’m reminded of why we’re doing this.”
Team Zone plans to expand its offerings beyond the spring season. In the fall, they’ll run flag games for young kids who aren’t ready for tackle football. This approach will introduce new players to the game and help them learn the basics. More information on a possible winter season will be revealed later.