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NC proves programs can blossom

Last week, Lewis and Clark completed its 18th successive winning football season. Shadle Park, North Central and Rogers managed one win apiece. Is it inevitable, or can those programs compete on equal footing with their South Side counterparts and Valley and Mead schools?

That thought came to mind after receiving e-mails from a couple of parents, one from Shadle and one from NC.

The first came midway through the football season, when a group of Shadle parents met with Shadle principal Herb Rotchford and activities coordinator Tim Trout questioning the direction of the program.

The parent wrote that while other teams in the GSL are moving forward, Shadle is standing still.

The other lauded NC’s freshmen, who became a beacon of light with their just-completed 7-1 league championship season, handing Mead its only loss.

“The (NC) program has had limited success over the past several years, so it was awesome to see the hard work and new attitude that is being instilled,” the parent wrote.

There’s likely no question that socioeconomics and enrollment play a part in football culture. Low-income schools are at a disadvantage. Fractured middle schools with teammates shuffling to different high schools, and open enrollment is a problem in District 81, the NC writer said. Rotchford knows as chair of the Greater Spokane League eligibility committee that kids transfer not for hardship, but for playing time and a winning program.

Still, North Side schools have shown they can succeed in other sports. State championships in volleyball, boys and girls cross country and track, and state trophies in boys and girls basketball are recent examples.

Football is unique, because it requires sheer numbers their schools don’t have. But Great Northern League champion West Valley has lately had turnouts of more than 100 players.

Coaches, Rotchford told me, must be magnets for young athletes, connect with kids and hire staffs with unified strategies to instill spirit.

“We need to do a better job of mining the pipeline,” Rotchford said. “We need to get kids in young football programs in later grades and get them excited. We want them to have a positive experience and represent the school and community in a (classy) way. If I believe losing kids not coming to Shadle Park because a program is not viewed as competitive – that’s a concern. At the same time, there’s a level of patience that needs to be exercised.”

That means it is incumbent that administrators understand the importance of athletics and monitor the direction of their programs.

Those of us immersed in them would argue sports are important. Rightly or wrongly, they define a school. One principal told me years ago that the whole tenor of a school year revolves around the results of its football season.

For North Side schools to prosper, the NC parent said, developing feeder youth programs and having dedicated high school coaches is the practical way to build a program. The nucleus of the Indians’ freshmen co-champs came from such a program.

“We will probably never achieve the numbers of Mead or Central Valley, but our freshman team proved we can do a lot if the kids coming in are experienced and willing to commit to the program,” he said.