There have been a lot of things happening in a hurry when it comes to the Bartow High School football program. Things are moving quickly because they have to. The spring football game is nine days away, but there’s an exciting opportunity awaiting you even before the team travels to Mulberry.
The Orange and White game, a pre-season scrimmage allows fans to get their first real look at the BHS squad, will be held Friday, May 17 at the Bartow High School stadium. For some of the newer players, it’s their first chance to trot out onto the turf that helped build Bartow to be The Home of Champions. For many of the players, it will be a return to a spot that has been the scene of successes and a few disappointments.
That’s the last we’re going to hear about what was. For now, it’s about what will be.
The public is invited to come out to the stadium beginning at 5 p.m. for a Bar-B-Q dinner. Advance tickets were sold for the meal, but there will be a limited number of first come, first served tickets. Proceeds benefit the football team. At 6 p.m., the players hit the field for the Orange and White game. This will follow a scrimmage format without a running clock.
“Each offensive group will get 10 plays and they will continue their plays as long as they are moving the ball forward,” said Bartow head coach Jason Butler. “This will be a good chance for people to see the players who are going to make up our new team for the year ahead.”
Butler understands the importance of community in the formula that makes a successful football program. From his first meeting with the players in the school’s auditorium, he vowed to make this more than a high school football team, but make it Bartow’s team. During his playing days, Butler saw the community support at its best and wants to bring it back to that level. He has been addressing community social clubs and has invited the public to attend practices.
On the practice field, it is becoming a learning process. New terminology is always developed when there is a coaching change.
“Football wise, we’re working on the terminology while we’re learning to run the ball. You may call something a different name than another guy. Some people call the fullback a B back. Our players have to get used to what we mean when we say something.”
Butler has seen a steady group of 60 players on a consistent basis at practices with as many as 90 expressing an interest at some point or another. There are also those who don’t decide to play until after spring practice, so those numbers could be increased in mid-summer.
Both sides are learning. The coaches are learning the strengths of the players. The players are learning the schemes desired by the particular coaching staff and what it takes to execute the schemes. Butler is out for consistency.
“Last Thursday, I thought the practice was trash, but Friday, we had good scrimmaging and one of our better practices. We want to keep that momentum going.”
Butler, his coaching staff and the players can’t do it all alone. Just as they say it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community, a committed community, to build a winning football team. There are plenty of opportunities and the fundraising at the scrimmage is just the start. Join the BHS Booster Club, for example. Decide how your business or place of employment can be a supporter and there are as many ways to do it as there are ideas.
I often think of the athletes who come out of the Texas high school programs who find success in college or pro ranks. One of the common themes you hear from them is how their Friday night football games were “the” place to be. They talk of how the community turned out, made road trips, and lent support in so many ways. It doesn’t just happen in Texas and it doesn’t just happen in the smallest of communities. Having just one high school allows this community to be unified, not divided like places like Lakeland, which has several schools. The community’s support should extend to all athletic programs, not just football. It should be given to the arts and sciences and any activity that is provided to a Bartow youngster to learn and grow and develop skills, some which have lifelong consequences. It’s about being a community, where the town comes together, pulling in one direction, toward victory and achievement.
You’ll see it in its early stages Friday night. It should be obvious at the spring game in Mulberry on May 24 and the pre-season classic at Frostproof in August. By the time the home opener rolls around on Sept. 13, they’re going to see it from the other side of the field. The world should know “We are Bartow.”