Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Tackle football program coming to Bay

by Mike Ramczyk

July 12, 2012

History was made Monday night in Williams Bay.

And the football culture will never be the same in the community.

That’s because the Williams Bay School Board approved by a 4-1 vote a new junior high football program that will introduce tackle football to the community’s seventh- and eighth-graders for the first time.

The intrasquad program will pit Bay middle schoolers against each other at first with the possibility of facing other schools as early as this fall. Williams Bay varsity football coach Derek Diehl’s brainchild is intended to keep Bay kids playing in the Bay instead of driving to Badger or Big Foot for youth football.

“I’m completely elated,” Diehl said Monday night. “It’s a big, giant step forward. I’m so excited for the kids. We were one of the only communities without youth football. We want the kids to stay here in the Bay. It’s easier for the whole community. It will bring us a football atmosphere we are desperately, desperately needing.”

“It’s important to stress fundamentals and the proper technique at the middle school level,” said Williams Bay Superintendent Vance Dalzin. “We want to be supportive of our new coach as he builds a new program.”

Diehl put in some good, old-fashioned elbow grease for this. He called every single incoming seventh- and eighth-grade boy (34 families to be exact), and only two families weren’t on board. Diehl said he found the kids that didn’t play football weren’t participating because they didn’t want to play for other communities. Diehl added several kids are willing to stay and play in the Bay and leave their current teams at Badger or Big Foot. The program will be privately funded, so there is no cost to district taxpayers.

This monumental change will allow middle schoolers to learn the terminology and philosophies of the varsity football program.

“We want to provide the proper training for future Williams Bay Bulldogs,” Diehl said. “We will rely on basic fundamentals but make sure they still enjoy the sport. We want to get them excited about Williams Bay football again.”

For now, two middle school teams will play each other at 5 p.m. on Friday nights this fall, just before the varsity game.

“Those kids will stay and watch the varsity, and it will increase attendance,” Diehl said.

Dalzin said the current flag football program is still a possibility, as long as there is enough interest.

The Williams Bay varsity football squad has endured four straight winless seasons. Numbers could be a factor, but experience may be the biggest reason. Bay kids don’t get to play tackle football until freshman year, whereas most if not all of their high school opponents had a chance to learn the proper tackling techniques years before taking a varsity field.

Diehl can relate to a football program hungry for wins. Growing up in Pennsylvania, Diehl’s high school football team suffered consecutive winless seasons as well. The year after he graduated, a coach named Chuck Wagner took over the program and became one of the winningest coaches in state history.

A few months ago, Diehl called Wagner, now 77, for advice on building a program.

“Chuck said you have to start young,” Diehl said. “And the school needs its own developmental program. We are not looking to put a youth league together. We want the same schemes and disciplines of the high school level.”

Little by little, the Bay football culture is changing, and Diehl’s initiative and hard work is perfect for a Bay community looking for a splash of positivity.

Year after year, the competition is strong in the Trailways South. And each year, the Bay takes progressive baby steps. Last year, the Bulldogs were so close, losing 12-7 in the final minute in their most competitive game in four years.

Four years ago, the foundation was laid with a new football field. Despite four winless seasons from 2008 to 2011, coach Buddy Breen and his staff laid a foundation of positivity, hard work and accountability for Bay athletes.

Last year, Diehl brought the Lake Geneva Generals semi-pro team to town and demonstrated a winning product on the field.

Finally, with Monday night’s game-changer, the recipe for a winning formula is brewing. Bay area youth will learn proper football fundamentals along with the Bulldog system as early as 11 or 12 years old. By high school, these kids will be able to hit the ground running and fine-tune their skills.

“This will allow us to compete on an equal playing field,” Diehl said. “It eliminates excuses. We have a great group of kids here. They’re hungry, they’re sponges and they want to learn about football and life.”

After years of loss for the Bay football program, it’s time to eliminate wins and losses and focus on change. That’s exactly what the school board did Monday night, and the positive effects should reverberate throughout the community for years.