by Taylor Williams
December 13, 2010 – “Winning solves all problems.”
Four simple words uttered by Kevin Kelly, the head coach of the Thomas Jefferson Jaguars, just days after getting school approval for a new playoff system involving Jefferson and three other New Orleans area schools.
Though it’s unofficial and doesn’t count toward district competition, the creation of this new sub-league between Jefferson, the Grace King Fighting Irish, the Ben Franklin Falcons, and the Fisher Gators, is a big deal to each school’s football program. And the reasoning is simple: a chance to win some ball games.
This new, unnamed conference will consist of six regular season games for each school, followed by a round-robin playoff between the four, and ending with a bowl game. It’s a two year plan with a prioritized emphasis on creating a fun, competitive atmosphere that pits teams with similar levels of program development and ability.
Which might be a good thing for these four squads, who went a combined 7-33 this past year and struggled in particular in district play. And each program’s development is equally hindered by unmanageably tough competition, insufficient experienced athletes, and lackluster morale from the fan-base.
But the new conference, which is sanctioned by the district, will give each school a chance to reverse all that, by creating an opportunity to prove it can win at some level, any level, whatever level. Which is the surest way to facilitate participation, according to Kelly.
“Winning will always bring more people; it doesn’t matter who you beat, when you win, you get more spirit, more kids to sign up, and that’s when the ball starts rolling,” Kelly said. “After our junior varsity season, the guys saw our schedule coming up, and we had several guys quit because they didn’t want to play against that type of competition. And that’s normal.”
In Louisiana, football is often treated with life-and-death gravity, and fans often lose sight of the game’s fun side. But the element of fun derives from healthy competition, and healthy competition drives program improvement. So when perennial losing sets in, it initiates a vicious cycle of continual backtracking that only makes the learning curve seem steeper.
“Athletics is the soul of the school,” Kelly said. “And it’s not so much winning or losing, but being in the game and having a chance to win.”
The bottom line? Take the fun out of football, and you take away the catalyst for betterment. The biggest challenge this new conference will face involves applying success gained within the conference to actual division play, which isn’t going to take a backseat just because the cellar-dwellers are improving.
But that’s far down the line and for now, fans and players for Jefferson, King, Ben Franklin, and Fisher have to be excited for the chance to bring their programs up to district speed by competing for a title. Now they just have to give that title a name.