By Tim Huether
The Bennett County High School Warrior football team is young, inexperienced and a little undersized this season. Add to that a brutally tough schedule and you have the making of a rough year.
That’s what makes this story even more impressive, the fact these young adults are showing up in all the important areas you want them to, especially after otherwise trying times.
They are getting positive comments from opposing coaches and even referees about their behavior and play on the field.
Off the field, they are even more impressive with good grades and positive attitudes.
“This is a true feel good, positive story that the people of Martin can be proud of with what is going on with the high school football team,” said high school principal Craig Courbron. “The turnaround this year has been like nothing I have ever seen in my 27 years of education. The entire atmosphere around the team is different. The team is growing, the boys are putting in effort, they are playing better, their academic performance is off the charts, and their behavior at school has been nearly perfect.”
Courbron added that there are no current F grades for any football players and no behavior referrals since the season began for any football players.
“The team has grown since the year began, as opposed to students quitting like has happened previous years,” added Courbron. “This group of players is special because they may not see the benefits (in wins/championships) of the turnaround they are leading, but in a few years when the program is competitive every week, this group will be remembered as the team that did the hard work of turning around the program from losing games/losing attitudes/losing culture to winning games/winning attitudes/winning culture. The future of the program looks bright because what is happening right now.”
“Mr. Donovan has done extraordinary work with these boys,” continued Courbron. “He has focused on success in the classroom and life first, and then in football. He has changed the entire culture/climate/atmosphere around the football program and made it something that the students want to be a part of this year. That has translated to increased effort on the field and better overall play.”
When asked what his secret was, Bennett County High School football head coach Riley Donavan replied, “It’s going to sound really simple, but the one thing we say all the time is be a good person. Everybody knows how to be a good person, it’s putting in that action to being a good person. We talk about our grades, doing the right things on the field, doing our jobs, not talking back to the refs, other players, we do our thing, that’s it. We play the game of football, we practice hard...it’s simple. It takes a lot of effort, but telling these guys to be a good person, they’ve taken that to heart.”
At first, the coaches held the athletes accountable when not doing what was expected, but Donovan said now the other players hold each other accountable.
Warrior players said they are on board with the expectations and where it has taken them.
Senior Adam Byrne said he expects his teammates to keep their head on straight in school, be smart and make good decisions.
“If they are not doing what is expected, we get on them,” said Byrne. “We try to stay positive and when someone gets down, we make sure we keep their head up.”
Senior Dante Rascher remarked that he expects integrity from his teammates, doing the right things.
“Even when the coaches are not there, everyone is doing their part in school, out of school and in practice,” said Rascher. “They are playing the game, doing their roles and doing their jobs right. They are hard working!”
“If anyone gets down, we try to pick them up, saying, ‘don’t worry about it,’” responded Rascher.
Sophomore Tyce Gropper said he always expects 100 percent and asks that they do the right thing. “I try to get teammates involved and push them on all things including school work.”
Superintendent Patrick Frederick there have been positives that came from folks outside of the district. The first one was an e-mail that was sent from the athletic director at Wall.
Their bus driver for the game when Wall came to town for the H.S. football game sent an e-mail out to all the administrators in Wall expressing how the folks at Bennett County did an amazing job of hosting the football game. He shared that everyone was really nice and helpful and that they even had a bus parking spot right beside the locker rooms. He thanked the district for providing a meal for all the coaches, players, and other Wall staff after the game. He mentioned that he drives bus for many different activities, and that the Bennett County group really stands out.
Frederick said another show of appreciation came from Gregory, where former supt. Stacy Halverson has a friend that shared with her how impressed the Gregory coaches and staff where with the Bennett County football team and coaches.
“Mr. Donovan shared that the Gregory coaches praised his team with something to the tune that this is the best football team Bennett County has had in some time and, due to their youth, if they stick to it, they will do amazing things,” said Frederick.
“Yes, it is true that the culture in the Bennett County School District is changing for the better,” said Frederick. “I will say that it is due mainly to the student/athletes, parents/guardians, and staff members (coaches/teachers). In my experience as an eighteen-year educator, you typically will not see a culture change overnight. It typically takes 3-5 years to see a culture change. “
“The one exception to that rule, is a group of students who have the ability to change a culture quickly,” continued Frederick. “For instance, it is no secret that we have many wonderful students in grades PreK-12th grade currently enrolled in the Bennett County School District. These individuals are simply making a positive choice to do and be better. Yes, many of these students are on the high school football team, other Bennett County athletic teams, or may be Bennett County School District student scholars who show up for school every day, work hard to learn in their classes, and follow the rules. Not sure, but common sense tells me that the culture in the Bennett County School District is changing because our students have been taught that education and doing the right things in life matters.”
“The key ingredient to this puzzle would be the parents/guardians of all our students. I credit all our parents/guardians for instilling the importance of education, hard work, respect, and failure in their children’s lives. I also credit our coaching staff and teachers for taking the opportunity to build on the positive characteristics of our students and working with all our students to reach their full potential. If we continue to have students that walk into our school buildings with these positive qualities, we will continue to see not only our school culture positively change, but more and more opportunities and doors will be opened for all our students, district, and community.”