Area small schools having big success

Area small schools having big success

October 5th, 2012 by Kelley Smiddie in Sports - Preps

Being in charge of a football program at a small high school means dealing with shortages. That goes for players, money in the budget and more.

But in spite of that, most of the 11 Class A teams in the Chattanooga area this year have shown that a drawback here and a deficiency there aren't necessarily too much to overcome.

Boyd-Buchanan (6-0) is the only unbeaten among them, but six of the eight area TSSAA teams in the small-school classification, along with the GHSA's Christian Heritage (4-1), Gordon Lee (4-1) and Trion (3-1), have winning records in 2012. South Pittsburg (5-1), with 10 appearances in state finals and the first of its five championships coming in 1969, has been flourishing longer than any.

"We've had good players, number one," South Pittsburg coach Vic Grider said. "The kids still have got to believe in what they're doing. It still means a whole lot to them. They're proud to say they played for South Pittsburg.

"Every year that senior class doesn't want to be the one that messes it up. That makes it easy on a coach."

Silverdale Baptist Academy at 6-1 is off to its best start in the program's seven-year history. The Seahawks started 4-1 in 2007 and ended up with their only winning record (7-4) to date.

Silverdale's roster of 31 includes five seniors, and that's with former linebacker and tight end Reid Clements rejoining the team in the middle of September as a kicker only, after rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery.

Classmates Tyler Gibson and Kendall Shoemaker have been valuable members in the line, and Joe Blair is on the kickoff-return team, spot-plays in the secondary and has gotten a few carries. No Seahawk has proven to be more valuable than quarterback and safety Spencer Mossburg, who is a college baseball prospect and was the Seahawks' leading scorer in basketball last season.

"I'm one or two injuries away from us not doing near as well we could," Silverdale coach Al Rogers said. "Depth is always an issue at a school this size."

The Seahawks may be adding some depth in the form of eighth-graders. They'll be eligible to move up after the Independent School Conference middle school season is over, and only the championship game between Silverdale and Boyd-Buchanan remains.

Mossburg said play by the reserves can be instrumental in determining the fate of the Seahawks, who are still seeking their first state-playoff victory. He added that Rogers conditions the team well, knowing at least eight start on both sides of the ball.

"We stay in good shape," Mossburg said. "I think all of us that go both ways want to do it. The more time on the field means the more time you get to play football."

Like South Pittsburg, fellow District 6 members Marion County (5-2) and Lookout Valley (5-3) are public-school programs that have to help raise funds to be able to play. The budget at Copper Basin (5-1) takes a big hit every time it takes a road trip to play a conference game. The other members in District 5 are in Chattanooga, 60 miles away.

"We don't have a lot of money, and that gas tank has to be filled for our bus trips," Copper Basin coach Patrick Daley said. "We've got to put helmets on their heads. Basically it comes down to community support to help us overcome that."

The Cougars' program is so community driven, of Daley's assistants only 21-year veteran Todd Rollins, who is also the school's head baseball coach, is on faculty. Defensive coordinator Rusty Boggs is one of four volunteer assistants, the father of quarterback and linebacker Dylan and the husband of booster club president Karen.

Grace Academy (1-5) and Whitwell (1-6) are the area small schools with losing records, but there can be more than meets the eye when looking at records. For instance, Grace has lost to three of its four nondistrict opponents, two from higher classifications, and the combined record of those teams it lost to is 14-7.

"We've only got three other teams in our district," Golden Eagles coach Bob Ateca said. "We have to go get seven other games. You can't find seven other single-A schools within 100 miles from here. You have to play up three or four times just to fill out your schedule."

Growing up the son of longtime South Pittsburg head football coach, the late Don Grider, Vic Grider learned firsthand how to cope with the issues facing a small-school football program. Even the No.1-ranked Pirates have them.

Grider said between injuries and dismissals they dressed out 31 last Friday, which is as low a count on a South Pittsburg sideline as he can remember. But one thing he remembers for sure is something his father passed along and is part of the formula for having success at the Class A level, too.

"You've got to find something for everybody to do," Grider said. "You have to or you won't get anything done. He told me what you don't want is a bunch people 'killing grass,' which was his way of saying standing around. It might be the simplest of things, but there's something for everybody to do."