Our area schools athletic programs range in size. Waldron sits in the 4A, Mansfield is in the 3A, and Hackett plays 2A. But just because they are classified in those conferences, doesn’t mean that they are equal with the teams they play. Especially in numbers. Our athletic programs have some of the smallest numbers of players and the athletic programs have trouble with stability in team sizes.
Numbers and depth in any sport at any level is crucial to year in and year out successful programs. They are able to “reload” every year rather than have to “rebuild” every three to four years. The only way they can do that consistently is by having plenty of players to work with. True, when you get a lot of players, the excuse of “bench warmers” always comes up. You can only start so many players. But there is a positive purpose for those players suiting up.
Coaches and programs aren’t scrambling for players solely for the purpose of having a big team. They NEED plenty of players for the intangibles in the sports. There are injuries, resting rotations, practice, etc. Successful programs don’t become successful just because they have 40 players suit up. They are successful because those so-called “bench warmers” watch and learn so that they can fill the spot when others get injured, play poorly, or move up. It’s the life lesson of you don’t always get to start at the top but you can always work your way up.
Mansfield Athletic Director and Football Coach Craig Bentley said “Without numbers, you don’t have a program. It’s our jobs as parents and coaches to encourage kids to not only participate in athletics but to stay in athletics. There are so many options for kids nowadays. We can’t let them forget about the lifelong benefits that come from participating in athletics. It’s a team effort and it takes all of us.”
Hackett Volleyball Coach Bridget Freeman said “Low numbers obviously restrict substitutions. That can sometimes hurt because starters aren’t challenged for game minutes and practices are often limited in team scrimmages. The kids will only want to play if they are excited about the sport, love coming to practices to get better, and then finally enjoy the games. So, in order to bring in big numbers, the kids need to see the passion and the excitement for the programs. Then the enthusiasm continues to grow. The community is always a factor. We want to encourage the community to participate in any functions because it helps both the community and the school programs.”
Bottom line is, we all want our athletic programs to be top teams every year. We want success for our athletes and programs. Let’s get out of saying “we had a great team that year” and move to “we HAVE a winning program.” To achieve that level of excellence our programs must have plenty of players from Little League all the way through High School. There are athletic diamonds in the rough in our schools who may be on the fence about playing. You might just be the push that they are needing to get over that fence and become the piece your team is missing.