August is finally here, meaning the start of the high school fall sports season is getting closer. The tax-free school shopping holiday is behind us, a clear indication that the start of the school year is a few weeks away. Students will be heading back soon.
Student athletes, on the other hand, have already begun their portion of the year. Football practice started in earnest on Monday as the Bartow High School Yellow Jackets prepare for 2013.
In case you haven’t been keeping up with what’s going on in the world of BHS football, there’s a new man at the helm, new in the sense that he took the job last spring. Jason Butler is now the guy in charge. A BHS graduate, Butler knows a lot about the program from many different directions. He played with honors during his high school days. He coached against the squad on occasions, including last year as defensive coach for Lakeland High School. Since taking this job, he has worked tirelessly to get the program into the position of being as prepared as possible for the year ahead.
Butler and school officials recently took part in a Meet the Coaches event at Bartow High School, providing a “state of the program” outlook to interested community members. After introducing members of the coaching staff in attendance, Butler stressed a need for the program where the community can get involved.
“We want to get a positive attitude across,” he said. “The team has been beaten down too much. I saw it from the opposite sideline last year. They should have won two or three more football games last year, but they must not have felt positive about what they were doing.
“When I had played here, we had confidence. We had shirts that said it wasn’t cockiness, it was confidence, and I want to get our program back to that level of confidence. We need to lift up these players in a positive way.”
Butler cited the spring game against Mulberry as an example of how confidence could have made a better situation.
“We had 400 yards of total offense and we only won the game by eight points. There’s no reason we should have had seven fumbles in a game like that and the score should not have been so close. If our kids are confident, they’re going to execute better and there will be fewer mistakes. We have about 50 players in our program, so if you see someone who’s on the team, tell them how much you appreciate their efforts,” he said.
Involved in community
Practices and game preparation take a lot of time, but the program is carving out time to be involved with the community. Team members are expected to be on hand later this month at the Bartow Tow Jam, giving residents and supporters a chance to be involved just before the start of the season.
On Aug. 19, a series of weekly events on Monday nights will be held at the Beef ’O’Brady’s location. The series starts with a replay of the Mulberry game from the spring and a look ahead to the next opponent, which in this case will be Frostproof. The format will be followed every week.
Beef ’O’Brady’s will also donate 15 percent of the receipts that are dropped into the bucket by patrons on that night. Butler hopes to bring along senior players to speak at the event.
Plans are already underway for a fundraising golf tournament planned for March 22, 2014, at the Bartow Golf Course. This will be the first time for some time that a golf event fundraiser has been employed.
Butler knows confidence can come through community support.
“It’s humiliating and degrading to players when they look up into the stands and don’t see fans supporting them,” said Butler. “There’s an excitement level there with more people getting behind the team. Players will play with a different level of intensity. One of my fondest memories was when we had to play Lake Wales and we showed up for the game about 5:30 and about three-quarters of the Bartow fans were already there before the team bus arrived. By the time the game started, it was standing room only and it really got us ready to play. It’s always uplifting and we’re trying to get this program built so that it is going in the right direction.”
Butler said the kids have a need to feel wanted.
“If they don’t, they’ll leave school and leave the program,” he said. “Three of my best athletes during my time at Lakeland left Bartow. We want to make our program attractive. We’re getting interest from IB (International Baccalaureate) and Summerlin Academy. We’ve gotten a sponsorship through Adidas. We had 29 players who missed one day or less in lifting, showing a real commitment.”
Butler explained FCAT tutoring sessions that are planned to keep the athletes on task in their educational commitments. The program will have a strong connection with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and support is being sought to provide post-game meals for the players.
There will be more news coming from the practices with respect to the offense and defense that will be seen on Friday nights. The first game is 16 days away. While the team has its first three games on the road, it is a perfect opportunity to provide support where needed most. No one enjoys going to the other guy’s field and playing in front of their fans.
All of Bartow High School’s road games are within Polk County, a great opportunity to provide that support.
The formula for success includes involvement, the community’s involvement. As efforts are ongoing to strengthen the school’s booster program, the drive is alive to show the world that Bartow is a community committed to its young citizens. The ways to make a difference are as varied as those who can. The scoreboard on Friday night is not the only way to measure wins. Supporting the team has its own victories.