Railroaders stay on track with BFS
Name a sport and chances are Garrett High School has won a championship in it
Published: Summer 2004
Something amazing is happening at our school this year,” says Andy Thomas, head football coach at Garrett High School in Garrett, Indiana. “We are having tremendous success in football and other sports.” How much success?
This year the Railroaders won sectional and regional championships in football and boys’ and girls’ basketball. As if that weren’t enough to ensure school pride, the wrestling team won its conference and the boys’ track team has the potential for a second-straight undefeated season. The combined record in conference games in those sports at the time of this writing is 48-3. Says Thomas, “We are having as good a sports year as anyone has ever had in this area.” Obviously!
As you might guess from the school’s team name, Garrett is a railroad town, with many of the residents working for the railroad there. Comments Thomas, “We’re 20 minutes north of Fort Wayne, which is the second-largest city in the state, and some people choose to live in our small community and make the commute to Fort Wayne.” Regardless of where they work, the community supports its high school athletes with a vengeance.
“They are just unbelievably supportive of athletics. We played a regional championship football game in Rensselaer, Indiana, which is three hours from here, and our fans chartered six buses. Our fans outnumbered the other team’s fans by such a large number that many of them had to sit on the opponent’s side of the stadium because there weren’t enough seats!”
Weighing the Options
Thomas took over the top coaching position in football in June 2000, inheriting a team that had gone 2-9 the previous year and 1-9 the year before that. One possible reason for such a big turnaround in the football program after 2000 was going to more of an option offense. “We would like to be able to run an option 50 times a game, but people won’t let us do that, so we also throw.”
When asked if it was hard to develop a passing attack at a smaller school because there is often a lack of talented quarterbacks and tall, speedy receivers, Thomas replied, “Certainly if we have kids who can throw and kids who can catch, then we will throw, but you don’t always get those kids at a small school. We’ve been fortunate here during the past four years to have good quarterbacks. The bottom line is that we have an offensive system and a defensive system that aren’t going to change. Individual players might allow you to tweak various things and do some things differently, but we pretty much stay within the confines of our system.”
In addition to establishing a good on-field strategy, Thomas had to get serious about weight training. “We had a rather makeshift weight training program. We made up our own sets and reps, and the kids didn’t record anything.” When it was obvious that it was time for change, Chad Hollenbaugh, the defensive coordinator who had a history with BFS, encouraged Thomas to look into the BFS program. Says Thomas, “The more I read about BFS, the more I was convinced that it was a good way to go.”
Thomas, who has been coaching for 10 years and previously coached at a 5A school, believes that the concepts of unification and in-season training are critical for Garrett High. “I came from a large 5A school in Indiana that didn’t place a huge emphasis on in-season training. Certainly there wasn’t a unified program there, which is absolutely the way to go at small schools. At small schools you have to share athletes, so you have to have in-season and year-round training, as well as unification. But the fact is if I were at a big school again, I’d want a unified program because I’ve seen the benefits.”
Another feature about BFS that caught Thomas’ attention was the emphasis the program places on having athletes record their results each day and on setting goals and continually breaking records. At Garrett the coaches emphasize goal setting by keeping girls’ and boys’ record boards for the bench press, squat, power clean, total lift, 40 and vertical jump. “The record board is a great way to motivate our athletes. We also give them T-shirts for bench marks in the total, such as 800-pound total, 900-pound total, and 1,000-pound total.”
Such accountability, says Thomas, helps motivate Garrett’s athletes. “You can just see it in their eyes when they tell us how many records they want to break during that day’s workout. They become convinced that the program will make them better – they get hooked!” Also hooked is the administration.
“Our administration is on board with our weight training program as well, and this spring and summer they are upgrading our weight room,” says Thomas. “It was clear to all of us that the expansion had to happen, since approximately one-third of the entire student body, including non-athletes enrolled in weight training classes held during regular school hours, are using the weightroom.” And the interest continues to grow.
“We’re trying to get more weight training classes so our athletes don’t have to lift after practice,” says Thomas, “And with our success in sports there are a lot more kids who want to be a part of our athletic program right now. But it’s very hard to add classes now because of the financial crunch in education and because we would have to hire another teacher to teach health. That’s something we’re going to have to take a serious look at.”
In 2005 the Railroaders will change football conferences, although they will keep two local rivals. Thomas says the school’s athletic success and his own enthusiasm will not change. “I really do love it here. We have a great administration, from our superintendent’s office to our high school principal to our athletic director – these are just great guys. We have a great football staff, and we have coaches in other sports who are good people to work with.”
Is there a concern that the athletes will get complacent about their success? “No, not with the coaches we have at this school,” says Thomas. “With football we will have 17 kids on next year’s team who either started for us or who played a ton of football for us, and there’s a natural tendency for players to think they can just show up. We will certainly make our kids understand that’s not the case, and I can assure you the other coaches at Garrett High School will do the same.”
Being at the top of his field at a school that is enjoying tremendous success and pride, Andy Thomas has some insight to offer to anyone interested in emulating his success: “I’ve only been coaching for 10 years, but I’ve heard all the stories of the guys that I’ve worked with about the way things used to be. I think that one thing is true, and that is kids not only need discipline but deep down they want discipline. They want structure.”
“They also want coaches who will work them hard, and at Garrett High School we have coaches in all sports who do just that. Our kids know that we’re going to demand a lot of them on the practice fields and in the weightroom; but when it’s all said and done, they also know we care about them. We show them we are interested in what’s going on in their lives, and I think that’s very important to kids.”