From the Sidelines: Despite numbers, MA still strong

Published 7:45 pm Friday, July 24, 2009

There isn’t a tremendous amount that has been certain within the AISA of late. It seems another school abandons its football program or makes the jump to the AHSAA nearly every month.

Travel costs have skyrocketed as private schools have increasingly fewer teams within their vicinity to play. To alleviate the concerns, the association has opted to allow home-in-home series within the same season.

Prior to last season, Cottage Hill and Faith Academy made the jump to the high school athletic association and rumors of late are that Bessemer Academy will follow suit following this season.

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Down U.S. Hwy 43 at Marengo Academy, that uncertainty has taken on its own form as the school has undergone a slew of changes, starting at the top with new headmaster and football coach Robby James an import from Faith Academy.

For many, the direction of the school both academically and athletically has become a question. That, coupled with the departure of a strong senior class, has left the Longhorn football program with slight numbers.

The Big Orange reportedly boasts a roster of less than 20 players heading into the season, giving casual onlookers reason to doubt the probability of the team proving effective.

While James’ history and the Longhorns’ typical resiliency would seem adequate points of contention against theories regarding potential ineptitude, the strongest indicator of the team’s likelihood for success came this week.

Oddly enough, that indicator came on a practice field that did not exist at time a week ago. Tuesday, James manned a tractor, assistant coach Jonathan Lindsey worked a rake and Longhorn football players, parents and alumni formed crews that worked around the clock to clear the land, lay the sod and put in the school’s first on-campus practice field.

To those involved, the act seemed like commonplace. At MA, showing up when your school needs you is just what you do. So committing a day to difficult outdoor work in July heat is very little when it is for the school that you love. And at Marengo Academy, that level of passion is unquestioned.

Lindsey is confident in what the team will be capable of doing once it takes the field.

“We’re small, but we’re going to hell,” he says with a grin. It is a statement that to the uninformed ear sounds a lot like coach speak.

But to anyone who watched the young men work to lay down the same sod on which their cleated feet will soon tread, Lindsey’s statement suddenly becomes much more feasible.

Yeah. This team might have 19 or so players. But if they dedicate themselves to the game as much as they did to putting together that field, then they have a legitimate shot at being just as formidable as ever.

Make no mistake. Questions regarding the AISA still abound. And, undoubtedly, MA is not yet where James would like it to be on the whole. But one thing is for certain, in the young men who will call him “Coach” in 2009, the institutional and team pride is just as strong as it ever has been.