I covered the annual Walnut Grove-Monroe Area football showdown a few weeks ago at the Purple Pit.
It was hot and muggy, the game was delayed an hour by a storm and, when action began, it was played in a steady drizzle.
What’s more, there was little doubt about the outcome as Monroe rolled to a five-touchdown victory.
And yet, looking across the field from the press box, I couldn’t help but note that the visiting stands were full. I also couldn’t help but think that Walnut Grove deserves a winner, in football that is.
The Warriors have enjoyed success in other sports, namely softball and basketball. But they’ve never been able to find any traction on the gridiron. Now in their 12th full-varsity season, they’ve cycled through four head coaches and had just one winning season and one playoff appearance.
Judging strictly by attendance, Walnut Grove football clearly doesn’t lack for support. Unfortunately, that doesn’t equate with winning. For years, the Chicago Cubs were dubbed “the lovable losers” because they regularly sold out Wrigley Field despite the team usually finishing at or near the bottom of its division.
At last Friday’s game against Social Circle, green and white-clad fans filled the home bleachers, despite the team’s 0-2 record. Fortunately, they were rewarded with a win, the team’s first of the season.
Walnut Grove has all it needs to build a successful program. They have great facilities, good numbers, solid support. Sitting as I am on the outside looking in, I can’t, and wouldn’t in this space anyway, make a judgment about coaching.
Of the quartet of head guys to guide the program, all seemed to be hard-working, well-meaning men who did, or are doing, all they can to turn things around.
So what’s the solution?
Call it what you will — a catch-22 or stuck between a rock and a hard place — but Walnut Grove is in a tough spot. They need more and better athletes to be a consistent winner. But in today’s climate, you need to win to attract and keep more and better athletes.
Over the years, I’ve seen several potential star players bail on the Warriors program for what they perceived to be greener pastures (i.e., winning programs). Had they stayed put, not only would they have likely helped they Warriors win a few more, but they would have sent a message that this is a program worth investing in.
Instead, by leaving, they sent exactly the opposite message.
But retention isn’t the only answer. Recruiting from within would be a boost. Judging just from the wrestling and basketball teams, there are some outstanding athletes roaming the halls. Many just choose to forego football.
Kudos to the young men who pour their hearts into the program and keep battling despite getting knocked down. They are true Warriors. They need and deserve some support, and not just from the bleachers on Friday nights.