The Union School Board this week gave an enthusiastic “go” to the development of a junior football team at the middle school.

The board recommended that Athletic Director Dan Ridgeway move forward with developing the program Wednesday night at its monthly meeting.

Ridgeway gave a presentation at the Wednesday, Sept. 20, meeting on the proposed team that he said would be up and running by the 2018 academic year. He said currently the middle schools in the area are not up-to-par with others in the state when it comes to junior football.

“The Four Rivers conference is the only conference that doesn’t have junior football available,” Ridgeway said. “As far as the rest of the state is concerned, our school is one of the only schools not providing junior football.”

Currently, several area schools have signed on to start middle school teams, including St. Clair, Pacific and St. James middle schools. Ridgeway said Sullivan, Owensville and Herman middle schools are discussing adding a team as well. He said he believed other teams would follow if Union moved forward with a team at UMS.

The teams will play six games a year, Ridgeway said, and practice every day after school. He said this will be one of the main differences between the current peewee league that plays in Union, which only practices two or three times a week.

Games will be played on Thursday nights and the season will last seven weeks. If all districts that are currently considering adding a middle school team move forward with the proposal, there will be seven teams total in the conference.

Ridgeway said the current opportunities to play junior football for children middle school aged are good in Union, but could be improved. He said a middle school team would be less expensive, help coaches follow students success both on and off the field and follow Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) rules.

“If we can put this in the school system (it will) really align us with our focus to develop good students, good people and good community members,” Ridgeway said. “If they are underneath the MSHSAA (umbrella) we have a responsibility for their grades, their attendance, their attitudes, their behavior and what they are doing in the classroom.”

In the past, middle school-aged children could play in the Four Rivers Youth Football League. Ridgeway said that program had done good work in the past, and would continue to with lower grade levels.

Ridgeway said the UMS program would give players more opportunities and involve fewer long drives and weekend games ­— all which would make parents’ lives easier.

He added that the middle school team would allow any student to try any position and give high school coaches greater access to future Union High football players coming through the program.

All coaches involved in the program will be MSHSAA and district approved coaches.

As for students in the surrounding area who don’t attend Union, private schools will have an opportunity to “co-op” with UMS, allowing its students to play on the team, by becoming an MSHSAA affiliate member. Ridgeway said students could choose to play with UMS or other area schools like Washington.

The program is estimated to cost roughly $30,000 in its first year, where equipment will be purchased and the program will be established. From there, Ridgeway said, the cost would be an estimated $12,000 a year.

The school board unanimously approved the team.