Boom time in Northtown
By Brian Spano PrepsKC Managing Editor
Take notice, football in the Northland is awakening.
Some may say it already had awakened when Staley won the Missouri Class 5 state championship last season in just its fourth year of existence.
A valid argument.
But North Kansas City, Oak Park and Winnetonka all have programs with long histories, all with successes, all with tough times. Now, all three have new coaches with three years or less at the helm, making Fred Bouchard the dean of Northland coaches in his fifth year at Staley.
Just three years ago, Sterling Edwards took over for Ken Clemens at Winnetonka. He came from Blue Springs, where he was an assistant under Kelly Donohoe. The first year may have been a bit of a learning curve for Edwards and his staff when they started 3-7.
“Coach Clemens did a good job in the two years he was at Winnetonka before me,” Edwards said. “I would say the rebirth for Winnetonka probably started with him. He needs to get the credit he deserves.”
In 2008, Clemens was 7-5 with a conference championship and in 2009 went 8-4 only to fall to Ray-Pec in sectionals.
Edwards rebounded in his second season, leading the Griffins to a 7-5 record and a playoff win over Truman. This season, expectations are higher with a young and experienced group of talented players in the program.
“I think they have an outstanding team this year,” said Bouchard, “and they’re kind of young still. I think they’ll continue to be an excellent football team for a stretch because the kids they’re counting on right now are sophomores and juniors.”
Edwards quickly points to one factor in his program’s success.
“The weight room has made the biggest difference,” he said. “When I got here, we counted the number of kids who could bench 200 pounds and the number of kids who could clean 200 pounds and the number of kids who could squat 300 pounds. We had 19 kids in the program that could do that my first year. My second year, we had 61 kids who could meet that criteria. Part of that was the job we did in the weight room, part of that was the district made a commitment and spent money on a brand-new weight room. The credit goes to our district.”
North Kansas City, one of the older high schools in the metro and a team that plays on one of the more historic football fields anywhere in the city, has gotten off to a quick start this season thanks to what else - a renewed commitment to the weight room.
But the Hornets also have a fairly new man in charge in Leon Douglas, who is in his second season. He was promoted from defensive coordinator after the 2010 season.
“We were blessed at around the time I took over that our district totally upgraded our weight room facilities and equipment,” he said. “It’s all modern. Now, we have a facility our kids have confidence in that doesn’t have to take a back seat to anybody. With that, the kids have more pride, and they want to use it more.”
Northtown defeated crosstown rival Oak Park 52-10 in the second week of the season, but Douglas found a few things in that game a bit concerning.
“I want the kids in our program to understand how we’re going to win,” he said. “Going back to the Oak Park game, I was upset how we played because we did some things that, if we don’t shore up down the road, we won’t beat some of the people we want to beat. I look at more how we play, so we can understand what it takes to win. I want our identity to be winning.”
Oak Park has gone through the biggest change this season. Longtime coach Keith Ross retired after 27 years at the helm of the Northmen. He finished with 184 wins, three conference titles, 12 district championships and a state runner up.
This year, Chris Holt takes over the role, formerly the head man at Maryville where he led the Spoofhounds to the Class 2 state title in 2009.
Earlier in the season Holt talked with PrepsKC about his new challenge:
“After I met with the administration the first time and heard about the things they were envisioning and the things they wanted to get done, I think this will afford us all of the opportunities and everything we need to have a successful program. I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t think I could build a successful program.”
Already this year, Oak Park, which has played home games at North Kansas City and Staley, hosted a home game at its own school. Temporary lights were brought in, and it created a new atmosphere for the team and its fans.
“I know the Oak Park fan base is very hungry,” Holt continued in the interview. “We’re going to try to build this program the right way from the freshmen and sophomores through the JV through the varsity level. I know it’s not going to happen overnight, but I think we’ve got the right group of guys to help lead this program.”
Bouchard had the unique position of coming into the school district and starting a football program from scratch. Coming from Harrisonville where he won four state titles, Bouchard brought a wealth of success, but needed a little assistance on how to build a foundation.
“Because it was a brand new program, I spent a lot of time talking to Royce Boehm and Greg Jones about how they established the things they did at Lee’s Summit West and at Park Hill South because they were the two newest programs in the city at the time,” he said. “I leaned on those guys an awful lot and they talked about important things like setting traditions you know will last for years and years, establishing some norms at your school and how you have to be independent of the other schools.”
Bouchard may be responsible for the biggest paradigm shift that has affected each school in the district.
There was a time when freshmen weren’t allowed to take a weight-training class but were directed toward a general physical education class. Bouchard convinced the district to change that.
Now the fruit of Bouchard’s labor is beginning to pay off. His team is basking in the glow of a state championship, Northtown and Winnetonka are finding quick success, and Oak Park could be close behind as a new coach begins to put his imprint on the program.
“I think it helps our whole district when we’re all having success,” Bouchard said. “I don’t think that it’s really too far away where we could be facing one another in the quarterfinals or for district championships.”
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