Dear Butler Area School District Community:
Butler Area School District has a very successful athletic program. Many of our teams make the playoffs every year.
2016-2017 -- 16 varsity teams made the playoffs
2017-2018 -- 18 varsity teams made the playoffs (broke our school record)
2018-2019 -- 15 varsity teams made the playoffs
Over that three year span, we have had 101 athletes go on to play a sport in college.
However, our football program has not thrived. The program has had 7 coaches in 21 years and has an extremely low participation rate. I have spent time looking at data related to the program, including analyzing the game stats, comparing youth football rosters to varsity rosters and reviewing participation rates in multiple sports. I have also assessed the funding of the football program as well as conducted an economic comparison of the other schools in our section. In addition, I have had informal discussions about our football program with many people.
Some people point to the expansion of classifications in football from four to six as the root of our problem. I agree that certainly has not helped our situation, but I believe our issue runs even deeper.
My conclusion is that our issue is culture. It sounds simplistic, but the remedy is going to be challenging. The program has been in steady decline for two decades. The culture went from expecting to compete in the playoffs to expecting a season with more wins than losses to now a hope of a victory or two in a season.
If just about every other sport in high school has hopes of making the playoffs, why would you want to play football? The answer is that you love the game and we have a few students who do. The heart of our current players is impressive. I commend each of them for their commitment to the sport and the team. I believe that our students and our program can compete and be successful. To do this, we will need to make some changes and invest some resources.
To grow success, we need to have success. I believe we need to organize our football schedule to put our student athletes in a position to feel success by winning games and develop the drive for even more success. We requested to be released from the WPIAL for football only. That request was denied. Therefore, we have made the decision to go independent. This means for the next few years we will be building our own schedule and will not be eligible for the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs in football. We contacted PIAA District 10 and they have agreed to help us schedule games.
We are making an intentional decision to stop churning coaches. Coach Eric Christy has been our head coach for two years. We haven’t won a game. However, I think it is a mistake to change head coaches. We need to establish stability to develop a sound culture. Eric Christy will continue to be our head coach.
We will be investing in making sure we have the best possible coaches at all levels. However, we need the junior high level to be particularly successful. If student athletes do not feel successful at the junior high level, they are less likely to continue in the program when they reach high school. We are committing to sending our entire football coaching staff to clinics for professional development. We will also be extending this invitation to the youth coaches in our community.
We intend to develop collaboration between the community youth football program and our school football program. To facilitate this, we will be establishing a coordinator of coaching position. We have not yet conducted a search to determine who this will be, so if you know anyone who you think would be great in this role, please encourage them to apply.
The position of Junior High Football Coach is open. This is a critical role for the long term growth of the football program. Again, we have not begun the search for who this will be. If you know anyone who you think would be great in this role, please encourage them to apply.
Finally, we need to build excitement, enthusiasm and anticipation. Students want to belong to something they are proud of, something that is fun, and something that is rewarding. Football at Butler Area can be all of that. We will be engaging with Dr. Kevin Elko who will speak with our football team to help us focus on culture as we work to rebranding our football program.
Our student athletes can succeed if we believe in them and encourage them, while also providing the right leadership and resources. It’s time to move forward.
Brian J. White, Jr., Ed.D.
Butler Area School District