A SEASON IN JEOPARDY
With the forced departure of head coach Rob Kool, the Lakeridge High School football team faces extremely low turnout numbers and a recent history of futility
Lakeridge football has seen its share of struggles over the last year, and it isn't out of the woods yet.
Last week only 27 kids were ready to go out for the team and administration chose to make some abrupt changes. Head coach Rob Kool was asked to resign, and athletic director and lacrosse coach Ian Lamont, who has no prior football coaching experience, is stepping up in his place.
'Ian Lamont is a person at Lakeridge who is really able to energize and call on students to step up and be a part of something that's bigger than they are… to be a part of what looks to be a pretty amazing and unusual football season for us,' said Lakeridge Principal Mike Lehman. 'While football isn't his specialty, he's very good at motivating kids to take a look at themselves and think of what they might have to offer.'
Lamont said he intends to lead and motivate, while surrounding himself with a team of coaches who know the game of football.
'I'm not planning on coaching football, I'm planning on organizing, arranging, cheerleading, motivating,' he said. 'I know how to get kids to work hard.'
Players and parents gathered late Friday afternoon to hear of the change. With the low numbers, the only other option was to forfeit a season and play with only junior varsity and freshman teams.
'Kool said he's done everything he can do to keep football alive,' Superintendent Bill Korach told the players. 'But sometimes there has to be a change in leadership to resurrect (a program).'
Kool, who coached for three years, resigned at the request of the administration, and Korach chose Lamont for his leadership skills.
'Sports in general at Lakeridge isn't as big of a deal as it used to be in the old days,' Kool said. 'In this day and age, kids want instant gratification. Kids are constantly inundated with TV, movies, You-tube, texting … I think there are so many options for kids, if we don't promote athletics then we lose kids to other options.'
Said Korach: 'Right now we're in a difficult situation, and I believe he's the right guy.'
Lamont will fill in for the season until a permanent head coach can be found.
'I have the utmost respect and care for coach Kool. He deserved more kids to be out playing for him and more dedication from the kids,' Lamont said.
Since the change, the team roster is up to 38 between the junior varsity and varsity teams. Lamont hopes to raise that number to 45 in the coming weeks.
Successful high school football programs can have as many as 100 kids.
This latest struggle for the football program follows the battle with disgruntled neighbors to get permission from the city to play home games at Lakeridge.
Korach had hoped that victory would generate the boost the program needed.
Last year's team finished 2-7. This season 14 would-be returning players chose not to go out for the team, said Lamont.
'It's really sad that it's gotten to this point, but it has and here we are and instead of crying in our drink we're going to do something about it,' Lamont said.
Since he became head coach, Lamont has been recruiting some of the absent returners and has additionally sought out athletes from other non-fall sports.
'We've got a couple of new kids who have been thinking about playing for a few years - baseball, basketball or lacrosse players who haven't played football,' Lamont said. 'I think a lot of them played youth football, but didn't fashion themselves to be (high school) football players. Now they're juniors or seniors and they've grown into their bodies.'
Lamont hasn't heard any complaints about Kool from those who didn't want to go out this year.
'They just weren't having fun. That's the majority of talk we've heard,' he said.
Sandi Swinford, mother of junior player Benjamin Swinford and 2006 graduate and player Steven Swinford, says football has just simply changed from what it was 20 years ago.
There are so many other choices, she said. Kids can play water polo or lacrosse - sports that didn't exist or were on the fringe in past years.
Swinford says her son Benjamin is just excited to know that people are focusing on football again. She organized a meeting Wednesday night for parents interested in stepping up and giving football some extra attention.
'We want to have a 'We are Marshall. We are Lakeridge' moment,'' said Swinford. 'I think these kids will get something so beyond football this year.'
Swinford supported Kool, but says the change was needed.
'It's very unusual what happened, but it's all good. It's the right thing to do,' she said.
Kool isn't sure the series of events was helpful so close to the beginning of the season, but he is hopeful that it will spark a change at Lakeridge.
'I would have liked to see it end a little differently,' he said. 'It's tough on the kids, but if this is what it takes to get kids to come out for sports, then hopefully that decision will turn out to be a good one for them.
'My hope is that the outcome of this will refocus the administration on making athletics a priority at the school. I don't think this is just a football issue. We have an issue of participation in all of our boys sports. Hopefully this will change the culture of the school back to one of athletic pride.'
Lamont is fully aware of the big job ahead of him.
'I don't have the ego to think I can do this on my own,' he said.
Lamont will have Calvin Griggs as offensive coordinator; Jeff Johnson as defensive coordinator; Jerry Hill as line coach; and a handful of Lakeridge alumni who played for Tom Smythe, the legendary Lakeridge coach who led the team to a 1987 state championship, and Mike Colson, Smythe's successor who coached from 1988-2002.
'There was a rich football tradition at Lakeridge,' Lamont said. 'This is certainly a daunting task. It's going to be an exciting year. I don't know how it's going to turn out, but it's going to be a tough year.'
But on Friday, Oct. 10, the Lakeridge football team is going to ride on the enthusiasm of playing their first home varsity game.
'I really think we needed that home field. It's going to be a great night when we do play that home game,' said Lamont. 'No one else is going to be able to say that they are the first ones who played at home.'