Stop by Union High School on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon in May, and one will immediately notice the young Redhawks on the football field.

The Grand Rapids Union Youth Football Program’s spring football league provides 2nd-7th grade scholar-athletes the opportunity to play 7-on-7, non-tackle football. The league is run in partnership with the Union High School Football Program. In fact, all of the 7-on-7 teams are coached by current Redhawk football players from the middle and high school teams.

“The Grand Rapids Union spring football league allows our scholar-athletes to be ambassadors to the game of football and give back to the game,” said Curtis Andrews, Head Football Coach at Union High School. “I love the fact that the football league gives our scholar-athletes an opportunity to build on their leadership skills, and it also allows me as a coach to learn who our leaders are on the team.”

Over 110 youth players from 25 different GRPS schools participated in the program this year. Split across 11 teams, players practiced for 40 minutes before matching up against other teams for two 20-minute games. At the end of the season, teams squared off in two league-wide tournaments, one for 2nd-4th graders and one for 5th-7th graders.

The league is high-energy and competitive, but the primary goals are to build community and have fun.

“It’s all about keeping the energy up," Jaheim Jones told his players. Jones is a junior at CA Frost and plays on the football team. "These are lessons you can take into football, but you can also take them into life. Stay positive. Stick together. Keep smiling.”

Becky Swem, parent of a 5th-grade scholar at Congress Elementary, is grateful for the positive approach.

“What a great experience this was for my son. I really appreciate all the hard work that went into planning and coaching,” Swem shared. “It wasn’t always easy, but my son learned so much about being part of a team and persevering through difficult times.”

The Union Youth Football Program was launched in 2021 with the goal of building a community-oriented football pipeline for GRPS scholar-athletes. The first of its kind in the district’s 150-year history, the program has expanded tremendously since its inception. 

The program started with two tackle teams and approximately 40 players. Since then, it has grown to include winter clinics, summer camps, and the spring 7-on-7 league, in addition to the original tackle football program in the fall. Since its origination, the program has seen participation from over 400 scholar-athletes.  

Chance Hammingh, who played on one of Grand Rapids Union Youth Football’s inaugural teams and is now the quarterback of the Redhawks middle school team, is excited about the continued growth of the program.

“The best part is watching players learn and grow as they love the game of football,” Hammingh said. Chance is also one of the volunteer coaches for the spring league. “It’s my dream to be a coach one day. This is a great opportunity to help me get there.” 

Scholar-athletes interested in being part of the Grand Rapids Union Youth Football Program have lots of opportunities to participate. The program will host a youth camp on July 24, 2024, in partnership with the middle and high school teams, and registration for fall tackle football is also open. For more information about their offerings or to sign up for a camp or team, please contact Megan Persons, Grand Rapids Union Youth Football Program Director, at For information about middle and high school football offerings, please contact Coach Andrews at Registration links are also provided below.