Richland Center H.S. Confidence & Community
A new attitude turned around a losing streak and transformed players into leaders
By Gary Schwartz
Published: Summer 2003
Every coach emphasizes dedication, effort and teamwork as keys to future success. One fundamental component of the BFS program takes this concept to another level: Athletes are challenged to become Elevens by setting worthy goals and reaching beyond expectations. The Richland Center Hornets 2002 football squad accepted this BFS challenge with far-reaching results.
The varsity football record from 2000 through 2002 at this high school in Richland Center, Wisconsin, was an apparently mediocre 12 wins to 12 losses. That record takes on an entirely new significance when put in the perspective of pre-BFS and post-BFS. The Hornets managed only one win in 2000. Upper classman participation was dwindling, and sophomores had to step in to fill the gaps. Weight training participation and off-season conditioning commitment were sporadic.
Enter BFS. During the spring of 2001 Richland Center High School introduced BFS as a training package. The football team’s 12-12 record represents a dismal 1-9 streak followed by an amazing11-3 reversal and a trip to the playoffs.
“We owe a lot to BFS for the turnaround,” says Head Football Coach Jim Harris. “It’s much more than being stronger and quicker. It’s about setting goals and reaching them. It’s about seeing the results from hard work. It carries over into other areas. It has had a trickle-down effect. Now there are middle school athletes who are getting involved with the program because of what they have heard from their older siblings.”
Harris first learned about BFS as a player at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “We have a lot of three-sport athletes at Richland Center,” he said. “Before we brought in BFS, each sport had its own strength program. It was confusing for the athletes as well as for the coaches. Now all the sports are on the same page. Coaches can support each other. There is continuity from one season to the next. Athletes buy into the system because they see the results.”
The second season after the BFS program was implemented, a new weight room attitude was evident. Most obvious was a threefold increase in the number of football players in the weight room. Coach Harris noted that before BFS it was like pulling teeth to get players into the weight room. Then athletes began coming in without being reminded. There was pride in reaching personal goals, and teammates were encouraging each other and celebrating each other’s progress. A Strongman Club was created based on the four core lifts, with different colored T-shirts awarded for total lifts of 850, 1000 and 1200 pounds. It has become an honor to earn a T-shirt, and they are worn with pride around school. It was clear that a new attitude, a new sense of accomplishment and pride were developing.
The 2002 football season opened with the usual two-a-day practices. Those sophomores who had taken their lumps were now seniors. The team was led by twenty seniors with a unified goal and a solid group of equally committed juniors. The entire team was bigger, faster, stronger, and on a mission. Encouragement, confidence and support moved from the weight room to the practice field. There was a new enthusiasm and sense of “team.” As the coaches walked off the field after the first practice, we all could feel it. It felt great.
These young men maintained their positive attitude and support ethic throughout the season. Veteran players encouraged and “coached” the less experienced. Offense and defense supported each other’s efforts rather than criticize mistakes. Players taken out of the lineup came off the field and gave their replacements tips and encouragement instead of complaining about playing time. Even in losing efforts, they gave their best and came to practice on Monday with a positive attitude. Most important, the team was experiencing success. Success led to confidence, and confidence created more success. In close games, the Hornets found ways to win. This was a complete change from two years earlier.
The Hornets’ program involves more than the game of football. As in many schools throughout the country, our football players are role models. Middle school and elementary students look forward to the day they will be able to suit up in Hornet orange and black on Friday nights.
As role models and representatives of our school and community, players are encouraged to become Elevens, in the words of BFS. Coach Harris begins each season with this challenge to the team: “I want every player to set an example on and off the football field. Don’t just be an inspiration for the younger kids in practice and in the games. Be an inspiration in class, in town, everywhere you go. Be a positive influence. You always represent the team.”
This team concept is promoted in a variety of ways. Instead of individual players being introduced before a game, the squad is introduced as the Hornet Football Team and all the players come running onto the field as a unit. Likewise, a team flag was created; and following each win, a victory ribbon is attached and the entire squad accompanies the flag as it is carried in front of the fans.
The players have taken on a sense of ownership in the football program. Next season, at their request, the weight room will have squad leaders. The squad leaders will be seniors. Each squad will be made up of ninth through twelfth graders. The squad leaders will mentor and assist younger athletes. The goal is to get even more participation in the weight room and create an incentive for athletes to learn the BFS system so well that they may become squad leaders in the future. Our football players focus on helping teammates because it feels great and because it will ultimately help the team.
Helping others goes beyond the field and weight room. At the suggestion of Kathy Harris, Coach Harris’ wife, a reading program was established. On Fridays—game days—varsity players, dressed in their game shirts, travel to the elementary schools. There they spend 30 to 45 minutes reading to the elementary students, kindergarten through sixth grade. This is a major endeavor requiring coordination and cooperation of administration, high school faculty and staff, elementary teachers, coaching staff and the players. One glance at the expression on the younger students’ faces as they listen tells the story: the results are worth the effort.
It would be wonderful to conclude the Hornets’ story with a picture of a 2002 state championship trophy, but we didn’t reach that goal. We did make the playoffs, a substantial achievement for a team that was 0-9 a couple of seasons earlier. More important, however, are the lessons we learned and the individual contributions each member made to this team. Many contributions took place far away from the football field and turned into great lessons about what is important in life.