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Varsity football coming to Ashland

Friday, March 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:01 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Football fields need bleachers, goal posts, a press box, concession stands and scoreboards. And you can’t forget the lights for Friday night football. The must-have list for players includes uniforms, helmets, padding and training equipment.

The total cost of starting a football program can be upwards of $500,000, which is a pretty steep price for a school to pay.

Southern Boone County High School in Ashland has found out what it takes to get a football program going. Twenty-two Friday nights from today, the school’s first varsity football program will take the field.

Community involvement has given the school district the ability to start the football program.

“There have been several people in the Ashland community that have tried to get football going here for a long time,” Coach Mike Hall said.

Southern Boone County started its football program last year with a junior-varsity team. To say that football has support in Ashland is an understatement. From large group contributions to New Year’s Eve dinner dances and pledge cards, the community has raised more than $300,000 in monetary and labor donations for their beloved Southern Boone County Eagles.

The amount of money raised by the community has even more significance considering that the school has spent less than $1,000 on the football program thus far.

On a recent Saturday, the community’s excitement about the program could be heard as the echo of hammers rang out across the football field. More than 40 volunteers and football players made their way in the blustery winds to help construct the press box and clean up the area around the field.

“Look around today and you can see that if it wasn’t for the community, this wouldn’t be possible,” said Pat Slattery, member of the Southern Boone County Football Committee.

The desire to get a football program going in Ashland has been around for a long time. But it wasn’t until 2000 that the dream began to turn to reality.

Slattery said that in 2000, a few people from the community formed the Southern Boone County Football Committee.

“Football should have happened here a long time ago, so we decided it was time to finish the dream,” Slattery said.

Andy Curtis, another committee member, said that once the plan moved through the school board, things began happening quickly.

“We went to the school board for the first time in September of 2000,” Curtis said. “It took us a year to get the proposal through and then we eventually got it approved and began moving forward with our plan.”

Several groups have been fundamental in raising money for the football program. Several thousands of dollars here and hundreds of dollars there, have added up to what some are calling one of the nicest football fields and facilities in mid-Missouri.

“We received a large $75,000 donation from the Southern Boone Jaycees and that donation was really a kick-start to get the program going,” Curtis said.

Marilyn Thorpe, a booster club member since 1988, said the organization has raised money for the program through dinner dances and pledge cards.

“We’ve also received a lot of in-kind donations. Several contractors and builders have given of their labor and materials to build the press box,” she said.

Thorpe said the group received a $50,000 donation from The Dale and Edna Walsh Foundation.

Lights and goalposts were installed for the first junior-varsity season last year. The Eagle Foundation led fund-raising efforts for the football field lights.

“The foundation raised right around $60,000 for the lights,” Curtis said.

Steve Reeder is serving as the project coordinator, supervising all of the construction projects.

“We have so many people of all different trades in our community — electricians, plumbers, contractors and builders — and many of these people have given of their time and labor to get these projects finished,” Reeder said.

Reeder said he anticipates that the field and its facilities will be ready to go in August, well before the first home football game on Sept. 17. Bleachers have been ordered and will arrive by July.

“We were only going to order bleachers that could seat 500, but after 1,000 people showed up for the JV games last year, we decided to go ahead and order 775,” Reeder said.

Reeder also said that the Ashland Optimist Club is donating $16,000 for the bleachers.

As the community rallies to ready the field, members of the Eagles football team are anxiously preparing for the first varsity season. The team lifts weights from 6:45 to 8 a.m. before school on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“Varsity is going to be a lot more physical and rough. We need to make sure that we stay in the weight room,” linebacker Jake Taggart said.

Hall, the head coach, has nine years of assistant coaching experience at Mexico and North Callaway.

Although the responsibility of building the program from the ground up is a big one, Hall said he’s enjoying the challenge.

“Part of the excitement of this job was to be able to build and shape the program from the beginning,” Hall said. “That’s why I applied and why I accepted the job.”

The interest in the football program has not been lacking. More than 40 to 50 students are expected to be a part of the varsity team and Hall’s coaching staff includes assistant coaches Andy Jahnsen and Rodney Keuck.

Another daunting challenge for the team in its first year is its tough district assignment. Southern Boone County was assigned to the Class 2, District 8 bracket. The district contains Blair Oaks, California and Warsaw — all state playoff teams for the past several years.

“Everyone’s talking about our district assignment and is talking them up to be real tough, but I guess we’ll just find out once we get there,” said Matt Curtis, who plays cornerback.

Some see the football facilities as an asset for other sports and related activities.

“The great thing about the football field is that it involves so many people in the school,” Reeder said. “Now, because we have bleachers, we’ll be able to host events for track and field, and soccer. Also, there will be opportunities for the marching band and cheerleaders.”

Rick Kindhart, communications director for the Missouri State High School Activities Association, said the amount of money allotted for athletics at most schools is a relatively small percentage of the schools’ total budgets.

“The nationwide average for spending is about 1 to 3 percent of the school’s total budget,” Kindhart said.

Southern Boone County High School Principal Johnny Thompson said that athletics account for 17 percent of the high school’s budget.

Despite tightening budgets in schools around the state, the love of sports has not been overshadowed.

“This year, we’re expecting four to five Missouri schools to add football programs and we only know of one school dropping a program,” said Dale Pleimann, assistant executive director of the state high school activities association.


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