Football is important to small communities like Loudonville


Thinking about, analyzing and discussing the case of Redbird football coach Don Wilson is a difficult, and maybe risky proposition.
A couple friends who are deeply concerned about the welfare of the community but who are not football fans questioned what the big deal was.
"Why did you put the thing on the Wilson discussion in the paper last week and not the other stuff that happened at the school board meeting?" one asked, much more concerned about the renewal levy, the school budget and state-mandated curriculum adjustments.
"Karl Marx was wrong," another said. "Sports, not religion, is the opiate of the people, and in the greater scope of things, it doesn't mean a hill of beans in comparison to the local economy and the impact of extenuating forces on it.
"You should have written," he said, " "parents, players and others made comments about the performance of football coach Don Wilson, both pro and con. The board took no action, and made no response to the comments.' "
That certainly would have been easier, and less stressful.
But let's face it, while it may not be important to everyone, football is important to a lot of people in our small community, as it is in many other communities. For some, it is the most important thing there is.
When the Ashland Times-Gazette did a story in winter 2008 after Ron Lance resigned as coach about Loudonville High School's football coach search, it was listed as the most-read story on the T-G's website for several days. Admittedly, the story was printed at a slow time in the sports year, after the Super Bowl and before the NCAA basketball tournament, but a lot of folks read the story, not just folks from our school district.
When Wilson's Redbirds beat Ontario to start the 2008 season, his coaching debut here, he could have been elected mayor, township trustee or president among the voters in Loudonville and Perrysville.
Ditto at the end of the 2009 season when the team had a solid 6-4 mark and came within an eyelash of a share of the Mid-Buckeye Conference title, missing out because of a pair of close losses in games that truly could have gone either way because of an overthrown pass here or an inopportune penalty there.
The huge turning point in the Wilson football era came in the opening game of the 2010 season when the Redbirds literally snapped defeat from the jaws of victory in a last-second, one-point loss to Ontario, a loss caused in part because of inopportune events on the field " a pass caught on a tip after being touched by two defenders and a penalty that gave the Warriors a second chance after they appeared to have lost the game.
There were mistakes, too " clock mismanagement late in the game and the Redbirds' inexplicable inability to move the ball late after literally pushing Ontario all over the field for most of the contest. From all accounts, the Redbirds should have won.
Fate does strange things. Ontario, in a rebuilding season, went on to qualify for the football playoffs with a surprising 7-3 record. The Redbirds, on the other hand, struggled for more than half the season, not really putting a game together until the eighth game when they shut down East Knox. The Redbirds ended up 3-7, modified since to 4-6 because of an administrative error on the part of one of the teams that beat Loudonville.
It was truly a disappointing season. More disappointing, maybe, because we Redbird fans, myself very much included, were buoyed by rising expectations from the success of the previous season, and perhaps a fallacious feeling that we were a much better team than we turned out to be.
When you win, it's the players, the wonderful community and the outstanding support the community provides for the team(s) that is the reason. And faux-pas, like skipped practices and one coach showing up at a JV game, are forgotten.
When you lose, obviously it is the coach's fault.
And when you lose, the opportunity to nit pick becomes endless " skipped practices, players not in shape and poor team management all fall under the magnifying glass, and assistant coaches second-guess the head coach.
There are other factors.
In the heyday of the Redbird football program " the perfect '76 and '79 seasons, the great '83 and '84 teams, and the fabulous playoff runs of 1988 and 1991, Loudonville was a much different place than it is today. In all five of those years, the town was brimming with industrial-born prosperity, with the area boasting more than 1,000 fairly high-paid industrial jobs. School enrollment was high " as high as 1,700 districtwide with 500-plus students at the high school.
Today, we might offer 600 total industrial jobs. We are faring not so well in the great recession with downtown buildings vacant, school bond issues getting throttled by economically distressed voters and school enrollment drastically down " just a little more than 1,200 districtwide and barely 400 at the high school.
Just look at those numbers if you wonder why our football teams are not as big or as deep as they were 20 and 30 years ago. These are different times.
And the coach, no matter who it is, has no control over those issues.
Were mistakes made in the 2010 football season? Sure there were. They are made every season, even the perfect ones.
Are those mistakes a reason to fire a coach? I don't think so.
But can we, both coach, coaches, players, parents and fans, learn from those mistakes?
That is the opportunity we have. We still are living here in Loudonville in an era of rising football expectations. We can build from both the triumphs and the defeats of the past to make for a better football program, better school and better community.
We just have to work on it. And work with, not against, each other.

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