With sports like soccer sweeping up North Shore kids, it's a tough sell to get high numbers out for football. But lately, kids are finding it just as easy to strap on a few more pads and grind it out between the hash marks.
The Nicolet Jr. Knights are a fifth through eighth grade football program that has traditionally had lower turnout than football hotbeds like Mequon.
“More than anything, it’s a numbers thing," Rick Lagerman, assistant fifth-grade coach said. "There are so many kids out there (in Mequon). Sometimes it’s a tough sell in the North Shore. Kids are still doing soccer and other things.”
And while recruiting may be more suited at the college and university level, it proved very successful for the Jr. Knights.
Going door-to-door, Lagerman visited every boy in the fourth and fifth grades who attend Stormonth Elementary, leaving fliers tucked into their doors. He then made follow-up phone calls and even met some parents face-to-face. Lagerman said having a man inside helped too, as his son, a Stormonth student, helped spread the word about the football team through the halls of the elementary school.
Those recruiting efforts were more than successful with 45 players this season, compared to just 22 in 2010. But more than the numbers of players, wins or losses, it’s about the game of football and a deep respect for that love of the game.
“Everyone comes in with a certain idea about things, but our core idea, what the coaching staff and I came up with, is: to respect the game of football,” Keith Alling, fifth grade squad head coach.
His team capped the regular season with a 2-4 record as they head into an informal playoff, where there are no trophies, cheerleaders or victory dances.
“A winning record would be nice but it’s kind of secondary for us,” Alling said. “At this level, our job is to teach the kids the basics of football and to discipline the kids. At the eighth grade level we can start to talk about winning.”
With a very low number of penalties, Alling says his team has taken to heart those fundamental principles of football.
“They’ve learned how to push themselves out of their comfort zone,” Lagerman said. “Some of the kids really struggled the first couple of practices.” But as the end of the season soon approaches, Lagerman says the Jr. Knights have really progressed and changed.
“Now, the kids are grooving on the conditioning and they know schemes really well,” he said. “They’re supporting each other and learning to come together to achieve a common goal and learning values for the future.”