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It’s time to increase our expectations

There was once a time when Pulaski County walked down the steps of Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium and struck fear into the hearts of the opposing team. Many games were won over the years due to that fear.

 

A quick look at some social media and internet message boards used to supply readers a large number of posts to read about the Cougars, what they were doing, who they were playing and what the expected outcome might be.

 

Over the years, that fear has gone away. Teams who used to not enjoy the thought of playing the Cougars have come to be excited about it.

 

Before I go further into this column, understand that I am not talking about just football. Since the 2000 season I have watched and covered every sport in Pulaski County at the high school, middle school and rec league level. What I’m about to write applies to every sport.

 

During a discussion with a father recently, he gave me the old, “those dang coaches….” routine. I won’t bring up which sport to keep from singling him out, but it wasn’t football.

 

My question for him was simple; If the coaches are the problem, why have we only had one athletic team state championship in 44 years at Pulaski County High School?

 

I went on to explain to him that George Wythe has won state titles in several sports during that time. Radford, Floyd County and Auburn can also claim that honor. Galax, Auburn, Giles, Blacksburg and Christiansburg all have multiple state championships in that same time frame.

 

So why not Pulaski County?

 

If we were only talking about one program and one particular coach, you might be able to convince me. If you were talking about one program and a few coaches, I might be inclined to fall in line with that type of thinking.

 

But we’re not.

 

The Cougar football program has won one state championship and played in two others. They’ve won 16 district titles and seven region crowns in those 44 years.

 

Boys basketball has played for one state championship and girls basketball has played for one, but neither was able to bring home the big trophy.

 

There have been several individual state titles in track and field, but as a team it just hasn’t happened.

 

Baseball has made it to the region playoffs a few times. Boys soccer has made it to the region level once, girls soccer has not made it past the first round of the district tournament. Softball has had one season that ended with a .500 record, but there have only been one or two playoff wins.

Girls and boys tennis have seen a few individual players make it to the region level, the Lady Cougars looked better last season.

 

Wrestling has had individual competitors make it to the state level, but not as a team. Competition cheer made it to the state level but hasn’t won it all. Golf normally has a few good players, but they haven’t made it very far to this point.

 

In all of those sports that we haven’t been successful in, there have been multiple coaches.

 

So the big question is simple. Are the athletes in Pulaski County not as good as the athletes in the surrounding areas? Are they just unlucky? What is the problem?

 

I watch our kids work hard in practice. I see them in the weight room, at least the football players. I hear our coaches telling our kids the same things that the coaches for the other teams tell their kids.

 

The programs around us that are successful have one thing in common, they are consistent.

 

When a kid from Giles plays mite league football, he runs the same plays that the varsity team runs. A rec player from Salem knows the same terminology that a high school player knows.

 

Why? The varsity head coach of the football team is responsible for every level of football in their system. They pick the coaches, they give them playbooks and they support the younger teams.

 

I’ve seen the same things happening here in Cougar football. Last year Pulaski County rec teams won championships in two of three age groups. Many of those coaches are running what Pulaski County runs on Friday night.

 

The varsity head coach of every sport should have control of their program from top to bottom. If that program is successful, then the coach is doing their job. If not, we need to look at why and consider our options after a set period of time.

 

We need, I don’t mean we should want, I am saying we NEED middle school programs to feed every varsity program.

 

If Pulaski County wants to be competitive in athletics or any other activity, our leadership must provide the students and coaches the tools to be successful.

 

I truly believe we have the leadership in place right now to reach that goal. I see our school board providing sports, clubs and other organizations with the tools to find success.

 

I see most of our coaches teaching things the right way. Are there a few question marks? Yes there are, and if things do not turn around then we need to look at going another direction. Three years should be the goal to change the direction of a program in a positive way.

 

But the two biggest things that need to happen are going to be the toughest.

 

First, parents need to leave the coaches alone and let them either fail or succeed. I see too many parents looming over the shoulders of too many coaches, questioning every call and every decision. I hear too many parents yelling negative comments from the stands. I’ve seen far too many very qualified coaches and productive coaches leave due to parents. Let them do their jobs. If they fail, then the school administration will be responsible for correcting it.

 

Finally, the biggest change we need is a change of culture.

 

I watch Pulaski County kids take the field and beat their chest like they’ve just finished a state championship season, when the fact is we haven’t gone past the first or second round of the playoffs in far too many years. At this time, we don’t have the right to act like world-beaters. We’re not.

 

We need to take the field, the court, or the mat and just play as hard as we can. We need to focus on playing the game the right way. We need to focus on doing the little things right, because we haven’t been for a very long time.

 

If we train hard, work hard and do things the right way, we have the right to be confident, but we haven’t earned the right to be cocky. I’d rather win quietly with a smile on our faces than talk loudly and continue to fail.

 

Pulaski County kids are just as good as any others, we just need to get our priorities lined up and our heads on right. As a lifelong fan, I am hoping to be there when we turn that corner.

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