Navigating the youth sports landscape — particularly if you’re a new member of the Champaign-Urbana community — can be a daunting task. Questions abound. Fortunately we have a few answers.
Rec Leagues? YES — In most cases, this begins with T-ball and advances to Little League. In Champaign-Urbana, you can learn everything you need to know about those leagues here.
Travel sport? YES. There are many, including the Champaign Dream, which offers tryouts beginning at age 7 (usually in early July for the following season); the Illinois Braves, starting at age 9; and the Champaign Yard Goats (tryouts in July for the following season); the Mahomet Diamond Dogs; and the Mahomet Mavericks.
Middle School Sport? YES. The season typically runs from early August to late September.
High School Sport? YES. In the spring.
Camps? YES. The University of Illinois offers multiple camps through the year, including in the fall. Parkland College also offers multiple camps, including events in October, November, December, January and February.
Rec Leagues? YES — You can find rec leagues year-round, depending on the age group. Teams can be found in Champaign through the Champaign Park District and Urbana Park District; the Stephens Family YMCA in Champaign also offers leagues during the fall and winter.
Travel sport? YES. The older you get, the more prevalent they are, for both boys and girls.
Middle School Sport? YES. For girls, it is a fall — yes, fall — sport. For boys, it is a winter sport.
High School Sport? YES, a winter sport for boys and girls.
Camps? Everywhere. Many high school programs offer camps during the summer. Nearly all college programs — including the University of Illinois — offer camps in the summer (typically June).
Rec Leagues? YES — The Central Illinois Youth Football League includes teams from C-U, St. Joseph, Danville and Rantoul. Games are played from late August to late October.
Travel Sport? Not really. There are travel football teams but they are not prevalent and most are located around large cities.
Middle School Sport? NO.
High School Sport? YES, in the fall.
Camps? All area Division I colleges — Illinois, Illinois State, Eastern Illinois — offer summer camps of varying types. Some are for individuals, or specific positions, and others are for teams.
Rec Leagues? YES. The Champaign Park District offers soccer leagues starting with kindergarteners. Soccer Planet also offers leagues (ages 9-18) as well as classes for those as young as 18 months.
Travel Sport? YES. Illinois Futbol Club (formerly Little Illini Soccer Club) partners with the CPD and Savoy Rec Center to offer a “Micro” league for 3- to 8-year-olds. The seasons typically depend on gender and age but spring and fall are the prime seasons.
Middle School Sport? NO.
High School Sport? YES. For boys, the season is in the fall. For girls, the season is in the spring.
Camps? Soccer Planet offers a Skills Institute for ages 5-12 (the fall session runs from Sept. 12 to Dec. 16). The University of Illinois offers camps in the summer.
Rec Leagues? YES – in the early spring and summer, there are local recreational leagues for softball. In general, teams play 8u, 10u, 12u, and 16u softball. Teams can be found in Champaign through the Champaign Park District; Urbana Girls Summer Softball; Tuscola, Philo, Sidney, St. Joseph, Mahomet, Tolono and more. Start looking to register in winter.
Travel Sport? YES. Local “travel” softball teams now include the Champaign Park District, which launched a travel program in the summer of 2023. There are also travel teams all over Central Illinois. Teams closer to home include Rantoul Rush, Fisher Force, Elite (Villa Grove), Mid-State Blaze (Sidney), and Central Illinois Diamonds. Travel programs vary in terms in level of competitiveness and amount of travel. Teams start at 8u and go up to 16u. Travel try-outs are typically held in the late summer for the following year.
Middle School Sport? YES, a fall sport that starts with July (yes, I said July) tryouts. Districts that play middle school softball include Champaign Unit 4, Urbana, Mahomet-Seymour, St. Joseph, Paxton, Monticello, St. Matthew’s, Holy Cross and more.
High School Sport? YES, a spring sport.
Camps? The University of Illinois and Parkland College offer softball camps in the summer and sometimes during the offseason. Pitching, hitting and fielding lessons are offered privately.
Tip #1: Tee Ball programs in local park districts such as Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul and others can help prepare girls who want to play softball. Girls often play Peanut League in the local Little League.
Tip #2: The Rantoul Family Sports Complex is a hub of softball activity from March to November.
Ages: 5-18 (or 21 depending on league)
Rec Leagues? YES – in the summer, there are local recreational leagues for swimming. Many local park districts and outdoor pools have recreational swim teams. Some teams offer pre-swim team options for children who aren’t yet comfortable with various swim strokes or who need to work on building their stamina and endurance for practice. These are great opportunities for children to practice their skill development ahead of joining a swim team. To join a recreational swim team, participants must be able to swim a 25-yard freestyle stroke with their face in the water. In general, swimmers compete in the age categories of 6 and under, 8 and under, 10 and under, 12 and under, 14 and under, and 18 and under. Teams can be found through the Champaign Park District, Urbana Park District, Indian Acres, Lincolnshire Fields Country Club, Champaign Country Club, Tuscola, Monticello, Charleston, and Effingham. Start looking to register in the spring to prepare for a summer of fun.
Travel Sport? YES. Local “travel” and/or competitive swim teams that practice year-round include the Champaign County YMCA HEAT. HEAT formed in 2007 and was a result of merging Storm Aquatics with the Y-affiliated Aquachiefs which also had Champaign and Urbana Park District affiliations. The Heat is a member club of USA Swimming/Illinois Swimming and a YMCA affiliated team. The Clinton YMCA also offers a competitive option for those who live further from Champaign-Urbana. The Heat practices at the Stephens Family YMCA and features flexible scheduling for practices. Participants are required to attend two practices per week but may select options practicing on a more frequent basis depending upon group placement. Short-course swimming takes place from August-March and long course swimming season runs from April-July. Children must be able to swim a continuous 25 yard freestyle and 25 yard backstroke to join. They will be evaluated by a swim coach and will be placed in the appropriate practice group for their abilities. A participant may try three practices for free before committing to the organization. Families are not required to attend travel meets out of town; however, they are highly encouraged to do so. Teams start at 8u and go up to 21u.
Middle School Sport? NO
High School Sport? YES, high school girls swim in the fall and high school boys swim in the winter.
Camps? The University of Illinois occasionally offers swimming camps in the summer. Top Tier Lessons offers instructive clinics for stroke technique and development at various times throughout the year.
Tip #1: Swim team is fun. Your children are working to better their individual times, so celebrate their personal bests. It is fun to keep track of personal records and to celebrate the milestone time achievements.
Tip #2: Always carry a spare pair of goggles and an extra swim cap because it never fails … your kids will lose them or they might break right before their race.