Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why should the Highlands, NewCath communities enjoy the continuous success?

Allen Ramsey Photo. The Highlands football team enters the field for Saturday's game against Paducah Tilghman. Former players formed a tunnel to the home sidelines reminding them of the years of success.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter


Saturday marked a day I will never forget.

I was glad to attend the 100th season celebration with my wife and see what has made the Highlands Bluebirds football program consistent throughout the years. The all-time record of 859-227-26 that is the second-winningest in the country has been built on a solid foundation of dedication, hard work and great family values. Those three things are something that Highlands does not take for granted as portrayed with their state-record 22 state championships. The same can be said for the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds and their five state championships.

First-year head coach Brian Weinrich and staff made sure the current players saw what the tradition meant to the former head coaches and players. He brought them out sooner than usual as a result.

“We talked some this week about what a unique situation they’re in,” Weinrich said. “Sometimes when you’re in a situation, you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. This is a really cool situation. The tradition is second to none. A lot of the guys have heard those names.”

From a fan standpoint, there is big reason why one should admire what Highlands and NewCath have accomplished over the years. Former Highlands player Will Chambers hit on it in his speech Saturday at the 100th Anniversary gathering and many former players and coaches reminisced about it throughout the night.

I know what it’s like to cheer for a team that consistently struggles. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about what life would be like if my alma mater could have the success that Highlands and Newport Central Catholic have enjoyed throughout the years.

My alma mater is the Parkway Panthers of Rockford (Ohio). I graduated from there in 1996. Parkway has had a team since 1961 when the Willshire and Rockford school districts consolidated to form the Parkway Local School District.

I did not play football past the seventh grade. But I still went to the games to support the community and my classmates. This included covering them some for a daily newspaper, the Van Wert Times-Bulletin, during my junior and senior years in 1994 and 1995.

Highlands has gone 104-5 since 2006. The most recent graduating class finished 57-3 in four years of high school. I know both teams were disappointed in not winning titles last December.

But can you imagine going 11-29 with no playoff appearances in four years? Now, I will say Ohio and Kentucky have two completely different playoff formats because there are more schools in Ohio. But that is what Parkway did during high school.

There were some bright moments. But nothing compared what the fine people such as Justin Frisk that I met last night have experienced.

When it comes to Parkway’s woes, I think back to my junior year talking to former Head Coach Carl Swander after a loss at Haviland (Ohio) Wayne Trace. I really liked him as a history teacher in the sixth grade and wanted to see him and the program succeed so bad.

Instead, he was in his third season and the Panthers were winless so some impatient people within the community wanted him gone. Parkway finished 1-9 that year and Swander resigned in the offseason.

Unfortunately, Swander’s fate has had a similar tale to many since that 1994 season which happened to be Dale Mueller’s first of 20 years as head coach of the Bluebirds.

There have been a few upstart years in Rockford since I graduated. The 1999 team made the playoffs and made the second round for the school’s lone playoff win and the 2007 team finished 8-2, but did not make the playoffs because of Ohio’s unfair system in my opinion. Former Ohio University standout tight end and current Detroit Lions practice squad member Jordan Thompson led the 2007 team.

But the Panthers have struggled since then and I hate it because junior Sage Dugan is my third cousin. Parkway is 0-4 so far and a combined 3-21 since he entered high school. You can imagine how much I hate it for him.

But Parkway and any struggling program’s hope can turn around if they adopt some similar traits the Highlands and NewCath communities have known for years. It is possible.

1. Coaching continuity:

Highlands and NewCath have had it for years. Their successors had been on staff at least a few years before becoming head coach. Weinrich had been on Mueller’s staff since 1995 and Wagner had been on Schneider and former head coach Eddie Eviston’s staff since 1999.

When you promote from within, basic philosophies and principals often may be tweaked, but not completely changed. That is what happens when new coaching staffs come in more often than not. It takes kids time to adapt to those changes.

That is why I hope Parkway gets behind Dan Cairnes and staff. You do not always agree with coaches. It is human nature.

But there are many instances where it took a staff many years to make the program good. The alma mater of Weinrich’s wife Ashley is a prime example. She cheered there in the early 90s when the Pulaski County Maroons struggled.

But the Maroons hired current Head Coach John Hines in 1999 and the continuity has paid off. Pulaski County finished 14-1 last year and lost to Bowling Green in the 5A title game. The Maroons also made their first state semifinal appearance in 2009 losing at Highlands.

2. Small victories every day:

The Bluebirds and Thoroughbreds emphasize daily and weekly improvement. Their small victories throughout the week and offseason have led to many victories on Fridays throughout the years.

Programs like Parkway need them to build to that point. That ultimately leads to more victories down the road. Small victories could lead to no fumbles during practice to hitting wide receivers down the field several times in a practice.

Highlands and NewCath would be the first to admit that hitting performance goals leads to achieving outcome goals. You can’t build Rome overnight.

3. Solid youth programs:

I love how the Fort Thomas Youth Football Program does this. It is an instructional, not a competitive league.

The FTYFL encourages development and not favoritism. They know that a certain sixth grader may not excel then, but could excel in high school with development.

When youth leagues have coaches who have favorites, kids get fed up and quit. You often lose out on the high school level when that happens and never know what could have been.

4. Find ways to make things fun during practices and workouts:

Wagner and staff reminded the team of this last week. Kids play the game because it is fun.

Highlands and NewCath try to do that in a variety of ways. I know Highlands does different workouts in the offseason to keep things interesting. That also keeps kids interested, even the ones that do not receive a lot of playing time.

Even when not winning, football can still be fun. One example could be coaches joking around with players after intense workouts. That lets players know the coaches care about them enough to also be someone they can get to know and trust.

As a sidenote, I may have been gone from the Parkway community for a while. But like other places I’ve lived like Somerset (Kentucky) and Nashville, it will always have a special place in my heart.

I can’t will change up there, especially because I live in Northern Kentucky. But I can always have hope for Parkway no matter what.

…and that will never change.

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