By Marty Maciaszek

Ray Glassmann didn't think he was in 7-on-7 heaven back in 2008.

After a couple of years of organizing and running local basketball tournaments, Glassmann decided to see if an off-season spring football league would work. The early returns on the All-American 7-on-7 Passing League were about as favorable as the United States Football League's ill-fated attempt at competing with the NFL in the mid-1980s.

"I was going to cancel it," Glassmann said of having only five teams and 60 players the first year. "I thought, ‘I guess in Chicago this doesn't play well.

"One of the guys involved said as long we've gone this far, let's play each other twice. I'm glad we did."

The next year it grew to 16 teams. Then it doubled to 32.

Now it has exploded to 83 teams and more than 1,200 players from middle school to high school.

The seventh and eighth grade teams played their championship games early this week, and the high school varsity and junior varsity play a postseason tournament Saturday and Sunday at Canlan Sportsplex (formerly Lake Barrington Fieldhouse).

It isn't much of a surprise where this idea originated from for Glassmann.

"Every other sport has an off-season, almost to a fault," said Glassmann, whose son Riley was a Fremd basketball standout. "I talked to a friend in Texas years ago with a son the same age and I said, ‘What are you doing this weekend?' He said they were going to a 7-on-7 tourney and I said, ‘What?'

"As soon as I got off the phone I said that needs to come to Chicago. I had a vested interest (with Riley playing football then), but I thought there needed to be an off-season and it's a fun game."

It originally started with kids in middle school who wanted to get ready for high school. But Glassmann said there were a variety of reasons it took off at the high school level about three years ago.

The kids who were exposed to it in middle school wanted to stick with it when they got to high school. Glassmann said the IHSA eliminated its restrictions on the number of kids from one high school who could participate on the same team in the off-season during the school year.

While the high school coaches aren't allowed to coach their teams in practices or games -- similar to spring basketball or fall baseball -- some of them did start to see the potential benefits.

"Coaches said if kids want to play, they're going to play on an all-star team, so why not keep them together?" Glassmann said.

Glassmann knows nothing like this is perfect, but he has tried to make sure there aren't conflicts for kids who want to play a spring sport by putting most games in Sundays. And, not surprisingly, he is seeing more and more all-star teams being put together.

But Glassmann said interest continues to grow. There are even teams with players who just finished their high school careers and are looking to stay sharp for college.

And like it or not, being able to compete year-round is a big part of today's youth sports culture.

"I call it extra credit," Glassmann said. "The mistakes kids make in the spring, hopefully they aren't making them in the fall.  The bottom line is no one cares who won the 7-on-7 championship in the spring. It's who won a state championship in the fall."