King of the Mountain, a game many of us played when we were young. The battle to reach the top of the mountain can be hard and long fought. Eventually the best person wins by shear determination. What comes next? Many have found the real battle begins once you are there and holding on to that top position. When you were climbing, only those long sides at the moment posed any possibility of you not making it to the top. But once you make that final goal and you are on top, everyone wants to bring you down.
For the Magnolia Blue Eagles that will be the case in the 2011 season. Every opposing coach preparing his team to play Magnolia will tell them of the perfect 2010 season and State AA championship from last year. The coach hopes by telling the players this fact it will inspire his team. If he can give them the goal of pulling Magnolia off the mountain top, it may motivate his team to play with a greater sense of determination in the big game.
Expectations are always high at the beginning of the high school football season. Coaches and players, after almost eight months of not playing have returned to the practice fields to build this season’s team. That special feeling the team had on Wheeling Island last December of pride and joy has been tempered by time. On the practice field new faces looking at Coach Batton and his staff are hoping to repeat that same magic from last season.
Magnolia graduated 17 seniors from the 2010 squad--players with four years of experience that built toward the prefect 14–0 season. A Kennedy Award winning quarterback position is to be filled by a less experienced young man. He will be taking the snaps for the first game in this weekend’s 2011 season opener. Game experience will build confidence to play his game and not that of past quarterbacks.
There will be those who say the skill level of last year’s defensive and offensive line positions left open by graduating seniors may go unfilled by this year’s players. For those who say such things I would remind them that each of those graduated seniors was at one time in the same position as this year’s team. That is the challenge of high school sports; it changes every year with a new group of players.
This year’s players are not expected to fill Fox, Shepherd, Riggs, Benson, Keller, or any of the other seniors’ shoes from last year. They are there to play their own game and do the best they can. A lot of what they will gain is experience each time they take to the field against another team. They will grow and learn with each set of downs. Coaches will guide them to correct weakness and improve with each game.
In 1964 Magnolia won its first State Championship on a cold Parkersburg football field. The next spring many of the first team players graduated and went on to life after high school. I wondered what happened in the 1965 season after a state championship and the loss of some great senior players.
In the first two games of the season, Magnolia lost to their opponents by 25-6 and 25-7. The third game Magnolia’s playing skills once again put them in the win column. The fourth game against Bellaire was hard fought and ended up being a tie game 8-8. Game experience, coaching, and personal dedication gave new players who filled the 1964 veterans’ positions the skills to begin to win. By the fifth game of the season Magnolia was once again winning football games. They won decisively and with large point totals on the scoreboard. By the end of the season the 1965 Blue Eagle’s won six, lost three, and tied one. Did they win a state championship that year? No. But, determination by the players and coaches made them a contender in the state for the 1965 season.
The 2011 season will open this weekend against Wayne, a hard nosed southern football team with seasoned players. They also will have positions filled with new faces after last year’s seniors moved on. The Wayne Pioneers have spent the last few weeks practicing in the hot August sun trying to build a team to once again win a state championship title. And most likely sometime during those practices their coaches have pointed out to them, “You guys are going up against Magnolia, last year’s state championship winners the first game. It is time we bring them down from the mountain and claim our spot on the top for this season.” Most likely every team we play this season will be reminded by their coaching staff of that fact before the game.
The 2010 Blue Eagles didn’t get to the top by accident or game forfeits. They earned every yard and point by playing the best teams in the state. They did it with hard work and personal determination. Coach Batton is no novice at putting together a team to win football games. He and his staff have built a football program at Magnolia and good programs repeatedly challenge for championships. Before any thought is given to playoffs, the regular season must be completed by playing one game at a time. If they do that and do it well, going after another title will take care of itself.
Last season the Blue Eagles took to the field 14 times to play an opponent. During that same time the team took to the practice field almost 100 times. Practice fields are where weakness is corrected and experience is shared in training scrimmages. If there is any value to practice, this year’s team has already gone up against the best in the state last year. Players use skills in the game they learned in practice with knowledgeable coaches and other team members.
The 2011 Blue Eagles are standing on top of the mountain not because it was given to them, but because they earned that title last season. And when the whistle blows for the first kickoff of the season, they once again must climb that mountain alongside other teams to challenge to stand on top. It will take every member of the team to look inside himself and realize it can again be possible if they play every moment of every game to their best.. That is all anyone can ask of them or to any of our area teams.
I will look for you on the mountain top as I look Thru the Lens.