The new Yellowstone Youth Football league, which is now taking early registration and gearing up for its inaugural season beginning in September, might look similar on the surface to its predecessor, but behind the scenes it's a whole new, different organization.
"To an outside observer, this is going to look very similar to the way that Little Guy (Football) operated," said Jeremy DeVries, YYF league president. "But there are a lot of structural changes going on."
The old league, Little Guy Football, folded earlier this year, creating a void that YYF quickly filled beginning this spring.
DeVries said that internal problems led to LGF, which previously provided organized youth football to the Billings area for decades, shutting down.
"It was left kind of with a financial deficit and had some leadership changes," he said. "So a new group of people came in and decided to form a new organization."
DeVries was not involved with LGF. Most of the YYF administration and board is new as well, save for a handful of people — including Tom Potter, Rick Rodriguez, Dana Bishop and Courtney Zentner — who joined the new organization after also working with LGF.
The two are completely separate organizations and YYF, which is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, has affiliated itself with USA Football, the official national youth development partner of the NFL.
That affiliation gives YYF strong national oversight and established financial controls, access to the experience and expertise of similar programs around the country and some independence in how it operates.
"It allows us to network with a group of other USA-affiliated leagues across the country," DeVries said. "As a local organization, it was somewhat isolated here before."
In establishing itself, YYF paid off the entirety of an undisclosed amount of debt acquired by LGF through donations and fundraising. That, in part, allowed the new organization to acquire all of the equipment — pads, helmets and other gear — used in the old league.
That means there's enough gear for about 1,000 kids to sign up this year and YYF officials say they hope to have 800 youth signed up for the start of practice in August.
As part of its new national affiliation, YYF will put a focus on education of its coaches regarding rules and player safety and get all of its coaches certified in Heads Up, a nationwide USA Football program that offers extensive coach training, resources, programs, instruction and promotions on safety.
"We want to focus on fairness and safety, on things like how to properly tackle so that you don't get yourself injured," DeVries said.
While there are plenty of differences on the administrative side, YYF officials say they're striving to keep the outward appearance and structure of the league and play similar to what kids who've played in the past are used to.
That means they hope to field 32 teams — as long as enough youth sign up — split up into four divisions based primarily on age and grade in school.
The Rocky Bowl, which is the league's annual championship game, will also continue.
DeVries said the league is still actively seeking coaches and sponsors and that community support has been "fantastic" so far.
"We're excited about building the strongest organization that we can," he said.