Health problems were slowing grandfather Kenny Schafer, a founder of the Tiger Youth Football League that encompasses kindergarteners through fourth graders. Uncle Mike Schafer and cousin Kris Schafer were running the league when, in summer 2009, Kris made a phone call.
“Kris had kept the league going, but he said he really didn’t have time to run it any more and he was afraid the league was about to shut down,” Nick Beloat recalled.
“He asked if I could it over, and I agreed.”
Now, little over eight years later, the 37-year-old Norfolk Southern Railroad train engineer is a Greater Evansville Football Hall of Famer, part of the Hall’s 2017 class that was inducted Nov. 26. It’s a career highlight, but not the swansong for Beloat, a 1998 Princeton Community grad who earned four football letters as defensive back and wide receiver. He also lettered four times in wrestling, a sport in which he won two sectional championships and reached semi-state as a junior 135-pounder.
“Football has always been a passion for me,” said the oldest son of Mike and Sue Ellen Beloat and brother of Nathan Beloat, former Tigers quarterback who now is president of Princeton’s football booster club.
“Long before we entered high school, Nathan and I were ball boys. I looked up to Jody Taylor and John Boes. John has been like a big brother to me.
“So after Kris called that day, I wanted to do all I could to keep the Youth League going, Like he did for a while after taking it over from the Boys Club. His son Detrix was coming up in football. The game always meant a lot to me, so I wanted to give back.”
How the league has grown under Beloat’s watch. He recalled that in 2009 “about 100 kids were involved, 13 or 14 per team. We had four teams in each of three leagues — Flag for kindergarteners through second graders, Junior Tackle for third and fourth graders, Senior Tackle for fifth and sixth graders.
“This season we had 150 or 160 kids.”
That growth is no accident.
“I made it a point to get the word out to kids right away,” Beloat said. “Principals and teachers were good about letting me into their schools to talk to the kids about what football can do for you — not only in developing skills, but also in developing as a person. I made sure each kid had a registration form when I talked to him.
“I also had to find good coaches, people who could do a lot for kids first and teach football second. I also wanted to get parents involved. We were able to do those things. Our coaches are good people and the parents are having fun. The parents tailgate.”
Beloat made a significant change before the 2016 season.
“Instead of having our kids play against each other, we re-organized so that we had one team for each class, and we started playing teams from out of town — North Posey, Mount Vernon, Evansville Central, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Harrison. Last year we played Pike Central.
“No longer do our kids argue and fight in school who over will beat each other in the upcoming game. They are teammates.”
Travel recently expanded beyond what anyone would have envisioned a few years ago.
“Our fourth and sixth grade teams played this season in downtown Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Colts,” Beloat said. “Ten-minute games. Not only did our kids play other teams from Indiana, they played teams from Ohio and Missouri.
“Our fourth grade team, which included some third graders whom we moved up to increase depth and give those younger kids the experience of playing in an NFL stadium, went undefeated. Our sixth grade team, including some fifth graders whom we moved up, won two and lost two.
“If the Colts have that promotion again next season, we plan on going back.”
Thirteen-year-old seventh grader Cole Beloat, oldest of four sons born to Nick and wife Lori Toler Beloat, quarterbacked the Princeton middle school seventh grade team the past season after growing up in the Tiger Youth Football League. Brother Cale Beloat, a 10-year-old fourth grader, plays in the TYFL. They are predecessors to 3-year-old Case and 1-year-old Crue, who celebrated that birthday Sept.15.
Andy Schafer, Brian Lofton, James Price and Rick Gilmore coached the sixth grade team the past season. Josh Shearer, Jeremy Cowan and Chris Tanner coached fifth graders. Nathan Keene and Princeton Community boys basketball coach Ryan Haywood coached fourth graders, while Steve Duke and Dane Queen oversaw third graders. Corey Fougnies, That Smith, Kyle Reed and Brad Saum coached flag footballers.
“I’ve tried to grow our league as much as I can, do all I can for the kids,” Beloat said. “Josh Maners, who became our high school coach before this season, has helped our league and gotten everybody on the same page. Hopefully when our kids get into high school, they’ll be successful and have football as their passion.”