Community helps make football program a success

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By John Shindlebower

Ten years ago, Spencer County High School suited up the first football team in its history. I’ve been told that the old Taylorsville High School fielded a football team many decades ago, but for recent decades, Friday nights in the fall had been mostly uneventful in Taylorsville.
That first team played an abbreviated junior varsity schedule in 2003, and for the first few years, all the home games were played on Saturday afternoon because there were no lights. Gradually, the program began to take shape and now, 10 years later, Spencer County’s football team is in the top tier of 4A this season and proving it belongs.
That’s not bad for a little school with meager facilities and humble beginnings.
I thought about this Friday night while covering the Bears in a game at Louisville Waggener. When I was in fourth grade, my family lived in St. Matthews for about a year and I may have attended Waggener had we stayed. However, we moved to Winchester later and I never became a Wildcat. But I always wondered what school there would have been like.
Friday night I kind of got an answer, and it was depressing. Waggener is located in a very middle-class part of Louisville. The school itself is older, but it has facilities that Spencer County would covet. Nice bleachers on both sides of the field, a double-decker press box, a nice concession building with restrooms, and other amenities other schools likely take for granted. What was missing?
There was virtually no one in the stands. The high school band consisted of fewer than 20 students, and suiting up for the Wildcats were fewer than 30 players. There was no student section rooting on the players and Spencer County’s fans easily outnumbered the Waggener faithful by 4-1 (and that’s being generous).
Please note that I’m not knocking Waggener. In fact, I found myself rather admiring the young people involved on the far sideline for working hard in practice, coming out each Friday night, usually against a superior foe, and doing their best. The situation and circumstances are not through any fault of their own, but the making of a flawed effort called forced busing that has ruined many a school in Louisville.
Many of the students attending Waggener don’t live in that community. Rather, they’re bused in from across town. Many of those students may live in a single-parent, low-income home, and playing sports or participating in extra-curricular activities simply isn’t possible. Their only means of transportation is that school bus, and how can you stay after school for practice if you have no way to get home afterward. That also explains the empty seats in the stadium.
Meanwhile, the young people who actually live in that community might be bused to some other school across town, and for the same or other reasons, they may choose not to be involved in athletics, band or other activities. It has also taken the community out of the equation. I’m sure there are some local businesses who try to support the local school, but busing has robbed many schools in Louisville of that neighborhood connection. It’s quenched the neighborhood spirit.
Contrast that to Spencer County. We’re a relatively small county, but in 10 years Spencer County has built a football program to be proud of. It took the work of many citizens who long ago had this dream and it has taken the effort of countless more to keep it going. This is a program built by a community, for a community. Most Friday nights, that’s evident with a large crowd gathering in Taylorsville to watch the Bears in action.
There’s still a lot that can be done to improve the program in Spencer County. But Friday’s visit to Waggener reminded me that while we still need a field house, nicer restrooms and permanent bleachers on the visiting side of the field, they’re not the main ingredients to the program’s success. The main ingredient for a successful program is supportive people — and Spencer County has that. What we lack today will become a reality sooner or later as long as this community continues to care.
It’s sad to see what’s happened to some schools in Louisville, and even sadder to realize that the ones who really suffer are the children.