After an 0-10 season a year ago, Kennard-Dale football is off to a 3-1 start to the 2017 seaon and looks to possibly contend for a Division II title. Elijah Armold, York Dispatch
FAWN GROVE — You can still smell the freshly painted walls when you walk through the brand new field house at Kennard-Dale High School.
It's a symbol of the progress within the K-D football program. It's also a sign of commitment from the Southeastern School District toward athletics.
For the last several years, the Rams have been a doormat in York-Adams Division II. In just four weeks so far this season, however, K-D has shown that this team doesn't resemble teams of the past. There's a renewed sense of pride among the Rams.
In order to truly appreciate the surprising turnaround that K-D is on in 2017, you need to go back several seasons to see the program's lowest of lows.
"As I was younger, we were always used to winning games. It came easy," senior wing back Dalton Stike said. "But, when I got to high school, it was a bit different. I just had to keep telling myself 'We're building up to your senior year. You just have to keep working and keep getting better.'"
Down years: The story of the Rams' resurgence this year begins in 2009, the last time the program had a winning season.
K-D went 6-5 that year, making it to the District 3 Class 3-A playoffs. The following season, the Rams made it back to the playoffs after going 5-5 in the regular season, but lost their playoff opener, finishing the year at 5-6. The 2010 season is the last time K-D made the postseason and was truly relevant.
In the six seasons from 2011 to 2016, the Rams, simply put, were dreadful. The program managed just seven wins during that time, with the high water mark coming in 2015, when the Rams went 3-7, but needed a coaching change after four weeks to somewhat right the ship.
During that 2015 season, Eric Updegrove and Chris Grube served as interim head coaches for the final six games of the season, helping K-D go 2-4 down the stretch. Updegrove moved on and is now an assistant at Red Lion, while Grube was approved as the head coach before the 2016 season.
Despite closing out 2015 decently, it didn't translate into any success in 2016, when the Rams went 0-10, their second winless season in five years.
"Last year, I knew it was going to be a total rebuilding year," Grube said. "We lost 18 seniors and we were going to play a lot of freshmen and sophomores, and that was frustrating on my end because I know how much these kids love the game, but I knew it was going to be a growing-pains issue. ... We took our licks last year."
Progress getting made: Starting in 2015, in the midst of K-D's losing ways, the school board showed dedication to the program by giving it the resources to excel.
By the end of that 3-7 season, the Rams moved from playing on a less-than-adequate field along the road, to the stadium situated at the center of the Southeastern School District campus. They played their final two games in that stadium under newly-installed lights, beating Eastern York in their first game there.
Before the 2016 campaign, the team received new helmets with an updated logo that had more flair. Then, Grube and others associated with the program persuaded the school board to OK the building of the new field house. Opened in time for the start of this year, the field house is home to both home and away locker rooms, training rooms, officials' locker rooms and the concession stand.
"It truly shows how Southeastern School District has bought into our championship environment," Grube said. "...When you see a school that's putting an effort in ... the kids see that and see how much we've invested in them. So, it's almost like they're trying to say, 'Hey, we need to now give back.'"
Promising start to season: If all the material things, such as as the lights, the helmets and the field house, showed the school district's commitment to the players, then the players are doing their part to return the favor.
Through the first four weeks of this season, K-D is 3-1 (1-0 in Division II play) and sitting atop the D-II standings. The Rams are the only team in the division with a winning overall record. One more win this season and it'll be the most wins the team has had in a season since 2010, when it last made districts.
"I'm feeling really proud and really honored to be a part of this season," senior wide receiver Wyatt Cairns said. "We haven't had a season like this in a long time. It's an honor to be part of this season."
This year's success has made the Rams one of the early-season darlings of the Y-A League, but there's still more than half a season to be played.
Grube knows the next three games will be crucial for his team, with an away game against West York this Friday, Sept. 29, next on the schedule. If there's one other encouraging sign for K-D, it's that, after this Friday, four of the team's final five games will be at home, including three in a row to close out the year.
For a team that hasn't made the playoffs in six seasons, that could make all the difference. At the moment, the Rams sit in the eighth-and-final spot in the District 3 4-A power ratings, so their finish needs to be even stronger than their start.
K-D fans haven't seen anything like this in recent memory. Grube, for one, hopes the program's losing ways are a thing of the past.
"This year, we're a lot more mature and experienced," he said. "The kids are loving the opportunity. Friday night (a 13-12 win over York Suburban) was the best atmosphere I've ever had in the four years I've been down here. Over 1,200 fans. You can't beat it."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org