It’s all been grid-ironed out

Panther football is back; home opener is Sept. 1

2012 varsity schedule

8/17 6 p.m. (A) Colonial Beach

8/24 6 p.m. (A) Northumberland

9/1 7:30 p.m. (H) Randolph Macon Academy

9/7 7 p.m. (H) St. John’s

9/14 7 p.m. (A) Bluestone

9/21 7 p.m. (H) Moyer Academy

9/28 7 p.m. (A) Arcadia

10/5 7 p.m. (A) Chincoteague

10/12 7 p.m. (H) St. John’s

10/26 7 p.m. (H) Timber Ridge

After calling off the season last year, the football team is back on the field at Rappahannock County High School (RCHS). With 26 players on the varsity team and 30 on the middle school team, things are looking much brighter for the Panthers than they did this time last year.

According to athletic director Jimmy Swindler, last season only 16 players showed up at tryouts (which were held before school started), a far cry from the normal numbers. “I had quite a few players tell me they would be there [at tryouts] when school started,” Swindler said.

That was an unacceptable atmosphere for Swindler and his coaches. “The culture of it needed to be changed. We had to send a message that if you wanted to play sports, you had to show up when you were told to.” Three weeks after that, Swindler made the difficult decision to cancel the season.

It was a loss immediately felt by the players and the community, and it had exactly the impact Swindler and the rest of the administration hoped it would. After holding an organizational meeting in February for players and their parents, Swindler began hosting off-season conditioning exercises, and said he continually had around 20 kids at every practice.

Further change was evident in the hallways, with former players rallying their friends to come try out for the team. “The administration deserves credit for handling this situation the right way,” said Swindler. “But the kids worked really hard for this, too.”

The Panthers still needed a schedule, however, and that’s where Swindler initially ran into some trouble. Football schedules are usually devised at least two or three years in advance; Swindler had just a few short months to draft one for his team.

Rappahannock County High School’s varsity football team starts practice with a huddle and cheer.Matt Wingfield | Rappahannock News
Rappahannock County High School’s varsity football team starts practice with a huddle and cheer.

“The general consensus among the other coaches I talked to was basically, ‘Good luck with that,’” Swindler said. After plenty of phone calls and some creativity, Swindler managed to build a reasonable schedule for the renewed Panthers: 10 games total, with five of them at RCHS. The Panthers are playing as an “independent” team – which means they play outside of the Virginia High School League’s Bull Run District – and Swindler expects that will continue next year.

“My plan is to continue as an independent team for the next few years. At least until we get our feet on the ground,” said Swindler, who went on to say that he’s working on adding some more area teams to future schedules.

The Panthers have a scrimmage against Northumberland this Friday, Aug. 24 (following another at Colonial Beach Aug. 17). Their home opener will be at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 1, against Randolph Macon Academy.

Panthers football coach Rowdy Stump takes his players through a special-teams practice earlier this week.Matt Wingfield | Rappahannock News
Panthers football coach Rowdy Stump takes his players through a special-teams practice earlier this week.