It may have been the most trying season in York High's long football history.
When asked how he would characterize the tumultuous 2016 Bearcats campaign, York High athletic director Ron Coursey called it a season with "a lot of highs and lows."
This season was as much a test run for him as it was for first-year head coach Russ Stoner. It was Coursey's first football season as the school's athletic director, after being hired last February. For both Coursey and Stoner, this was a season that will have a serious impact on the direction of the football program in the future.
"I think, ultimately, it was a rebuilding year," Coursey said. "But, I think that the best thing that I can say on behalf of this football season is that the foundation has been laid."
York High has a storied football history, but has fallen on hard times recently.
When Stoner was hired back in March, he was very aware of the difficulties that awaited him. However, nobody could've predicted the challenges he would face off the field.
It was bad enough that the Bearcats were coming off a winless season in 2015 and were simply trying to rejuvenate their numbers, in terms of player turnout, so that the program could compete on more equal footing with the other Class 6-A schools on their schedule. The lack of experience on the team this year contributed significantly to a 1-9 season, but the record hardly tells the story of just how much progress was made. In at least half of York High's games, it was within striking distance of its opponents, only to be worn down in the second half. In 2015, the Bearcats were rarely in games after the first quarter. And York did end a 19-game losing streak with an easy victory over New Oxford in Week 9.
However, off the field, things got even more challenging for the program, and it's the reason why Coursey described the year as "a roller-coaster ride."
Off-field problems: Over the course of the 10-week regular season, the following occurred:
There was a shooting in the parking lot of Small Athletic Field during the Bearcats' home opener against J.P. McCaskey, forcing the game to end early. It also led the school board to move York High's other 2016 home games to Saturday afternoon for security reasons.
A team member, Eugene Hillian IV, was shot and killed a couple of weeks ago.
And, most recently, during the team's final home game of the season in Week 9, Stoner was allegedly threatened by former Central York athlete Bernard Charles Jones III.
All of that cast a cloud over the year for the team, but those events aren't something that Coursey or Stoner think should impact the team moving forward.
"I think that York High football, as far as numbers, will be around 100 again," Stoner said. "I think the positives of what took place this year and what are continuing to take place will far outweigh some of the trials and tribulations."
According to school policy, Coursey must re-post and open up every coaching position at season's end. However, based on his assessment of Stoner during his first year with the team, it's hard to imagine a scenario that won't see Stoner returning for a second season.
"I would give him an A grade," Coursey said of Stoner. "That goes much bigger and beyond just wins and losses. That goes to incorporating some much-needed structure and accountability, helping me and supporting me in academics and the study hall and also just teaching fundamental skill work. A lot of our players were lacking some fundamentals and I think he was very good at teaching the game of football."
Of the 52 players on the varsity roster this past season, 42 have eligibility remaining. That will easily be one of the highest numbers when it comes to returning players in York-Adams League Division I. However, those players must be willing to improve.
Both Coursey and Stoner were on the same page when it came to discussing York Hight's next step. Obviously, increasing the win total from just one is important, but in order to do that, the team, as a whole, needs to become stronger and faster, which begins in the offseason.
"We gotta get bigger, faster and stronger," Stoner said. "The kids that are the fringe players, that maybe have one foot in and one foot out, we either need to pull them in, or we're going to have to show them the exit. The expectations are now set in front of us. We're going to dare the kids to be great and we're going to dare them to be better than everybody else."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org