Column: Line Drives — Indians created a winning culture

[This is my column in the Nov. 20 issue of The Commercial Review.]

I don’t like admitting I’m wrong. I probably never will.

But sometimes it must be done.

Monday, I was wrong.

I referred to the season the Fort Recovery High School football team had was of the “Cinderella” variety.

After further review, I retract my statement.

I was off. In fact, I was far from accurate.

Everyone involved with the program was confident the Indians would make the playoffs for the first time in school history.

And when they raced out to a 4-1 start — also the best since the program started 23 years ago — the dream was becoming a reality.

But really, was it even a dream?

Turns out, it was only a matter of time before they made it.

For years, the Indians were at the bottom of the Midwest Athletic Conference and only hoped to have a winning season.

Fort Recovery went a combined 6-34 the four years before coach Brent Niekamp arrived in 2005, and its only winning season was a 6-4 mark in 1995.

The struggles continued in Niekamp’s first two years as the Tribe posted consecutive 1-9 seasons. In 2007, the Indians were poised to make the playoffs with a 5-3 record heading into week 9, but back-to-back blowout losses to Coldwater (45-7) and St. Henry (34-6) ended those hopes.

Since then, they flirted with a .500 record just once, a 4-6 season in 2011.

After posting 3-7 seasons in 2012 and ’13, Fort Recovery put together the best record (7-5) in school history. It won more games than the previous two years combined. It made it to week 11, which was the team’s rallying cry since the preseason.

The Indians didn’t just stop at week 11.

They made it to week 12.

Now they know what it takes to be a winner. They know what is necessary to be among the best in the state, because they play the best in the state — this year the Indians had to do it twice.

It may have been an uphill battle this season, but the kids were up to the challenge.

The season kicked off with a convincing 26-19 victory over North Union, followed by a 28-0 shutout of state-line rival Jay County. It included a 31-26 win against St. Henry — just the second victory over the Redskins in 20 tries — and a stellar defensive performance against Fort Loramie in the regional quarterfinal.

But it ended with a David-versus-Goliath matchup against three-time defending state champion Marion Local.

Unfortunately for some of the Indians, football is over.

But no matter where their lives take them in the future, they will all have one thing in common — they were members of the first team to make the postseason.

And no one can take that away from them.

Niekamp said it best when he addressed his team following the Indians’ season-ending loss Saturday to the Flyers.

“We belong here,” he said.

No truer statement has been said.

I didn’t get to watch Fort Recovery as much as I may have liked, but in the three games I did see they played extremely hard. No matter if they were up big (as they were against Jay County and Fort Loramie) or behind by a lot (to Marion), they never gave up.

That’s the heart and character that builds strong, successful programs.

If future Fort Recovery squads play with the same drive and determination as the 2014 Indians, there is no doubt they will be back in the postseason — where they belong.

The 10 seniors who left everything on the field Saturday night set the tone for a winning culture in Fort Recovery.

I just hope that I’m right. Because let’s face it, I hate being wrong.


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