Football programs building from the ground up

Fort Vancouver, Hudson's Bay look for solutions to struggles

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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photoComing into the game with identical 0-8 records, Fort Vancouver and Hudson’s Bay did not attract a big crowd at Kiggins Bowl.

(/The Columbian)

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The Fort Vancouver football team celebrated like it had won a championship last week at Kiggins Bowl when the Trappers beat Hudson's Bay.

Hugs.

High-fives.

At least one player dropped to his knees.

That's what happens when a team ends a 23-game losing streak.

The Eagles, meanwhile, walked off the field 0-9 this season, with only one close game among those results -- the 24-14 loss to Fort.

As recently as 2007, the Trappers beat Columbia River. They made the playoffs in 2004.

The Eagles beat Union in 2007. From 1999 to 2002, they had four consecutive winning seasons.

For today's Trappers and Eagles, that must seem like a hundred years ago.

Fort Vancouver and Hudson's Bay football have combined to win two games the past two seasons — each beating the other once.

This past season, in their 16 games against other competition, the Trappers and Eagles were outscored 892-68, an average of 56-4.

This is rock bottom.

Parents have contacted The Columbian upset with Vancouver Public Schools, accusing the district of allowing too many athletes who live in the Fort or Bay boundaries to attend Skyview or Columbia River, the other two schools in the district.

Alumni have expressed concerns with the athletic directors, disgusted over the direction of the football programs.

And Fort and Bay administrators are frustrated with the perception that their schools are sub-standard.

Some fans have opined that the two programs should leave the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League and go to an independent schedule, competing against similar struggling programs throughout the Northwest to gain some confidence.

This week, The Columbian sat down with Bay athletic director Stoney Myers and Fort AD Dirk Hansen, as well as Mick Hoffman, who is in charge of athletics for all Vancouver Public Schools. The three addressed those concerns and established a foundation to build the programs:

• One, the programs are not going independent. They are committed to remaining members of the 3A GSHL.

• Two, the administrators have a plan.

• Three, they all expect success. It will take years, it will take effort, and it will take a lot of things to change, but they say it can happen.

"Stoney and I are celebrating this opportunity that we have," said Hansen, in his first year at Fort Vancouver. "We have the opportunity to make something that is pretty mediocre at best into a polished product. Stoney and I expect Bay and Fort to be playing for a GSHL championship in the near future."

Despite the 0-9 record this season, the Hudson's Bay administration is in full support of coach Sylvester Green Jr. He is Bay's fourth coach in four years, and through various reasons not related to football, he lost four assistant coaches just weeks before the first day of practice for the 2012 campaign.

Green, Myers and the school also had to mend a lot of wounds from a regrettable 2011 season when the athletes and Green's predecessor did not mesh. As many as 15 juniors who played in 2011 did not play in 2012 because of the experience they endured.

Myers said this year's juniors and sophomores have indicated to him that they believe in Green.

"With Sylvester, we're getting all the kids back, and we should be able to add more," Myers said. "I was upset last year. I'm excited about the direction we are going now."

Because of the turnover at Bay, there has been little or no offseason weight training and conditioning programs. Green, on staff at the high school as a student advocate, is making those things happen.

"To me, football season hasn't ended. It's about to begin, and now we're ready," Green said.

Still, it will take more than words to turn things toward respectability. Officials at both schools have to fight off the perception that schools in lower-income neighborhoods cannot succeed in football. They also battle against stigmas attached to their campuses.

" 'Bay is bad, full of gangs.' That is totally false," Myers said, referring to some of things he hears. "We have the same struggles as every school, but I love working here. We're not bad people. We have great people here. The school is great. The education is great."

The ADs acknowledge they are losing some athletes to other schools, but it is not nearly the number some believe. Myers and Hansen just want to make sure parents and students understand that Bay and Fort are viable options.

"We need to get out in the community and say what we're trying to do," Myers said.

Green said he attends youth football games, wearing his Bay colors. He said it is important for athletes and parents to see the varsity coach taking an interest. He also said he is here for the long run.

"I've given them a 15-year commitment. After that, we'll talk," Green said with a smile.

The magnet programs — specialized courses in a particular subject — at each high school within the district do attract students from other school boundaries. But both ADs say people who suggest the magnet programs are abused to benefit athletics at Skyview and Columbia River are misguided. Those are just excuses, the ADs say.

Myers said the key is to coach up the athletes at your school and not worry about the athletes at other schools.

"I was at Skyview when they weren't winning in football. You get the right person there, then it changes," Myers said, referring to coach Steve Kizer. "That's the most important thing. You get the right people in place. They got Kize there, and Kize started doing his work."

Successful programs such as Skyview will often attract the attention of athletes and parents. That's human nature.

Hoffman said that 53 of the 70 players (76 percent) on Skyview's roster this season live within the Skyview boundary. Five athletes come from Fort Vancouver, four from Bay, three from Columbia River, plus five more from four high schools outside the district's boundaries.

"If we pulled each school's roster, that's not going to be an unusual percentage," Hoffman said. "The state of Washington is an open-enrollment state. Kids have the right to go to school within their (district) boundary area."

But Hoffman noted that all athletes who change schools still must follow WIAA transfer rules.

Officials at Bay and Fort say they are obligated to make sure the sports cultures change at their schools.

"It's a three-year plan, typically," Hansen said. "I know that frustrates a lot of people. This is something that doesn't get fixed overnight."

Hansen provided a blueprint for Fort's football program.

"The first thing I'm going to do is get our staff together to establish our core covenants. Develop an identity within the program. What are we about? Who are we? All of us need to be on the same page," Hansen said. "Administration, athletic director, coaches, and most importantly, the players."

It sounds like coach-speak, but done correctly, it is the way out from the depths of 72-0 losses, Hansen said.

Both athletic directors mentioned books by Bruce E. Brown, known nationally for his positive coaching techniques. One of his books is specifically targeted to programs such as Bay's and Fort's.

Hansen also noted other programs in Washington. Seattle's Cleveland High School, he said, could not field a team in recent years. Now, the team is back and won two conference games this season. Another Seattle school, Chief Sealth High School, is a second example. The Seahawks won four games this season, three in conference.

"Other people are doing it," Hoffman said. "Why can't we?"

The attitudes must change first, though.

"We can't make excuses, and we can't accept excuses," Hoffman said. "We need problem-solving people, not excuse making."

Hansen said he is going to require the football coaches to read three books by Brown. He is going to insist that they all go to coaching clinics, not just one person on staff who attends, then comes back to report on what he learned. Hoffman indicated the district will pay for this training. Former coaches will be brought in to mentor current coaches.

"What we are doing now is not working. There are going to be growing pains," Hansen said. "People are going to be held accountable."

Hansen said the weight-training program will be year-round, a staple of all successful football teams.

The weight room will be open twice a day during the summer, allowing athletes who have jobs in the morning to work out in the afternoon and vice versa. He expects all the coaches will rotate the duties associated with having the room open.

Upperclassmen, Hansen said, will become mentors to elementary school students, to show them what it means to be a Trapper.

Similar building blocks are being discussed at Hudson's Bay, Myers said.

In the meantime, Hansen is looking at changing his team's non-league schedule. He would like to face Hudson's Bay twice next season, a Week 1 non-league game, and then the customary Week 9 rivalry game. Myers said he is not opposed to that idea.

In fact, it appears as if both schools and Hoffman are ready for change.

Because the model used the past five football seasons at Fort Vancouver and Hudson's Bay is not working.