From the Sidelines: Things must change for John Essex football

Published 10:34 pm Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The necessary decisions in life are often the hardest to make. But given recent history, it may well be time for the powers that be at John Essex to make one of those tough calls.

The football program at John Essex High has, at best, been on life support for the last several years.

The Hornets regularly field a squad of less than 20 athletes, including the junior high players who take part on the team. At the Class 1A level, that particular fact is not all that uncommon. But many of the athletes at John Essex do not exactly want to play football in the first place. They are often recruited to take part in the program and, typically, offer their services as a show of faith in the coach giving them the pitch.

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Over the last year two coaches doing the pitching, Fentress Means and Lenoise Richey, have each been relieved of their duties. That is fine. Those are personnel decisions that are difficult for outsiders to question given their limited information. But the byproducts of those decisions are the 18-20 directionless football players left without a leader. And this year, just like the last, the Hornets will not likely have a new shot-caller until July. That means they will be months behind their competition and again relegated to getting absolutely smoked by nearly everybody who can figure out how to strap on the pads. That happens sometimes. It is just football.

But when it comes to John Essex, things should be different. If the ultimate goal is to take kids, many of whom come from difficult backgrounds, and educate them while simultaneously instilling in them the lesson that hard work breeds success, then football at John Essex is entirely counterproductive to that end.

The sport itself is a great instructor for the lessons of overcoming adversity and sticking to commitments. But when there is a revolving door at the top, those are not lessons that can be easily instilled in the young men who commit their time and their bodies to the representation of their school. It is entirely unfair to these athletes to continually push them under the Friday night lights with less preparation and less coaching than their opponents, many of whom have far more resources at their disposal.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no way the program can be anything but a financial drain on the institution. It requires boatloads of money to travel to five road games a year, run the lights for five home games a year, pay for the necessary equipment upgrades and pay the salaries of the head coaches. Those are costs that cannot possibly be covered at the gates given the sparse attendance numbers at John Essex football games.

Essex has long considered itself a basketball school and a quick comparison of the crowds between the football and basketball games will validate that declaration.

With virtually none of the operational costs for the program being recouped during this era of proration and economic uncertainty, it seems like the dollars spent on a football program would be better used on necessities or even another teacher.

John Essex is looking to head into a new era after being awarded a $4 million improvement grant.

But the athletic atmosphere will not improve unless a football coach is hired and given time to build a rapport with the players and community, or the plug to the entire program is pulled altogether