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  • James Townsend

Jr. Raider program celebrates 40 years

When the Portland Jr. Raider football and cheer teams take to the field this fall, it will mark the 40th year that the program has been serving the youth of Portland.

The founding of the non-profit dates back to May 12, 1982. At that time, Charles L. Sandborn, Marlene Lefke, and Mary E. Sandborn, filed the articles of incorporation for T.A.C.K.L.E. Football Association, Inc.

The purpose of the organization, according to its official filing, was “To provide a competitive football program for youths from the 6th grade level through the 8th grade level. The main purpose of this program is to teach the basic fundamentals of the game.”

According to Randy Sandborn, a long-time coach in the program, T.A.C.K.L.E. stood for “The Association for Coaches and Kids to Learn through Experience.”

I recently sat down with Sandborn and Marlene Lefke to discuss the founding of the organization.

Sandborn said, “The big reason behind starting the program was that the 81-82 PHS freshman team did not win a game or score a point. The Middle School program had ended before that so there was no feeder program for PHS.”

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, many middle schools ended their football programs in Michigan. Portland Middle School was one of them.

Randy Sandborn is the nephew of both Charles “Chuck” Sandborn and Mary Sandborn. Chuck and Mary, both deceased now, were brother and sister.

Sandborn and Lefke said the program had two sponsors the first year. UAW Local 652 and Portland Vet Service. The sponsors helped cover uniforms and equipment.

In the first season in the Fall of 1982, the program had 7th and 8th grade players only and had a combined team with 24 kids.

“The first season they played three games against each other. One coach had 8th grade lineman and 7th grade backs, and other coach had 7th grade lineman and 8th grade backs. Chuck coached one and I coached the other,” Sandborn said. The last game of year was against St. Pats 8th grade team.

Sandborn said, “We had no expectations in the beginning. We went to the PHS coaches and told them we wanted to run the same offense they did. We wanted to take the burden off them in teaching the basic stance, holes, techniques and how to tackle.” The reaction from the high school coaches at the time was less than warm. Sandborn said, “at first we got the brush off from them.”

In the second year, they joined the league known as GOPAC. This included teams from Grand Ledge, Olivet, Potterville, Albion and Charlotte.

As the program grew, they found success.

In September of 2009, the organization’s official name was changed to Portland Tackle Football Association, Inc.

Today, the Jr. Raider program offers tackle football and sideline cheer opportunities to 4th through 8th boys and girls living within the boundaries of the Portland Public School District, and has nearly 200 kids participating each season.

While the Jr. Raider program is a separate entity from the Portland Public Schools, the program currently enjoys a wonderful working relationship with the district, especially PHS varsity football coach John Novara. Games are hosted at Portland Middle School, and practices are held on multiple properties around the district. Novara routinely holds clinics where Jr. Raider football coaches can get as much instruction from the high school coaches as they can handle.

The Portland program is now a member of the Mid-Michigan Pony Football League, who membership includes programs from through Mid-Michigan, including Charlotte, DeWitt, East Lansing, Eaton Rapids, Grand Ledge, Haslett, Hastings, Holt, Ionia, Jackson NW, Lakewood, Mason, Pewamo-Westphalia, Waverly and St. Johns.

As part of the 40-year celebration, the program is asking former players and parents to submit photos of former participants. These photos will be used for online photo albums as the year goes on. You can email those to

You can learn more about the Jr. Raider program at .

Photos courtesy of Randy Sandborn.

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