West, Holmes in first year playing tackle football
With just a game or two left, there seems to be general satisfaction with the first year of a new City Parks/District 11 program that has brought tackle football to the
middle schools, including West and Holmes.
“It's been a successful year,” said West coach E.D. Rucker, who is also director of the city/D-11 West Intergenerational Center. “It's not about wins and losses, but getting over the hump, so the kids understand what it means to exert themselves and be a team.”
“The general feeling is that they're [parents and players] happy it's here,” said Holmes coach Michael Wilshusen, who also teaches eighth-grade American history. “It's another opportunity for a positive thing for the kids.”
In some regards, the program works the same as it used to: Players pay a fee and sign up with City Parks, which loans out the equipment, schedules games at Memorial Park and provides referees.
The difference is that now the kids can play for the middle school they attend, competing in a league against other District 11 middle schools.
A major plus for the schools is academic control. Unlike when kids used to sign up for teams independently, eligibility now is tied to having good grades. “It's a good thing,” commented Wilshusen, who had been an assistant football coach at Palmer High the previous three years. “It makes the kids accountable.”
According to Gerry Strabala, City Parks' program coordinator for youth sports, the Widefield and Cheyenne school districts have had similar arrangements for years. Working out a similar plan for D-11 “has been in the works for four to five years,” he said. “It's taken time to get it done logistically.”
Other District 11 schools with teams this year include Jenkins, Russsell, Sabin and Mann. The league was filled out with teams from St. Mary's (a private Catholic school) and the Boys & Girls Club.
The teams started practicing and playing games in August. Games are played by teams in both seventh- and eighth-grade divisions.
Holmes initially had 65 players (although some have since dropped out) - about 40 in eighth grade and 25 in seventh. West had a little more difficulty attracting athletes, and wound up with a total of about 20 from both grades, who have combined into one team competing in the eighth-grade division.
Both schools found themselves with numerous boys who had never played organized football. “They've improved dramatically,” said Rucker, who has coached and competed extensively in city programs over the years. “They had to get over that initial fear of blocking or tackling. Now they understand that if they do it properly, they're not going to hurt themselves.”
Wilshusen sees a benefit in preparing players for high school football (Holmes and West each feeds into Coronado). “It's real positive for both the high school and the middle school,” he said, noting that his playbook is partly patterned after the Coronado system. “Hopefully, there will be some carry-through.”
Both schools have received strong parental support for the program. The following is an excerpt from a write-up by West's “team mom,” Gabi Shelton: “It took time to get used to the coaches and to running plays while someone was intent on knocking them over. The parents also suffered varying degrees during the growing pains. It can be difficult to watch the struggles from the sidelines of both practices and games. This is particularly true for parents of children who have not played this type of contact sport before.
“As with all growing pains, the phase passes. This is definitely the case with West's first football team. The team is no longer a hodgepodge of players running in different directions, tripping over their own cleats, complaining about working hard, and feeling like they will die if practice doesn't end early. They are a united front, no longer a group of boys in the same place at the same time. They have become a team and everything that stands for.”
Westside Pioneer article