The man who oversees athletics in the Oklahoma City Public Schools minces no words when it comes to high school football in the district.
"What we have done in the past," Phil Ingersoll said, "has not worked."
Only four of the district's 10 teams have managed a winning record in the past decade. Success is limited, coach turnover is high and player participation is low.
Ingersoll wants to change that.
"It is important to our schools and athletic programs at all sites to have competitive football programs," he said. "Research shows if you have a quality football program it helps the total school environment. The total school climate is better if you start the year with a competitive football program."
And he has a plan to make that happen.
On the final day of our three-day series on football in the Oklahoma City Public Schools, we wanted to look at the future. We asked Berry Tramel and Scott Munn, long-time observers of sports in the Oklahoma City area, to offer their thoughts on how to improve football in the district. Still, no one will have more to say about the future of OKCPS football than Ingersoll.
The district's athletic director since 2007, he developed a five-year plan to improve football. It began a year ago addressing everything from uniforms and facilities to coach expectations and player development
"We must be realistic," Ingersoll said. "I know our total football program in the OKCPS will not be turned around in one or two years."
"We expect constant improvement on a yearly basis."
So, what's the plan?
Massive resources have been poured into the district's four stadiums during the past year.
And it's only the beginning.
All of the stadiums are now funded by the district, a policy started only last year. Four full-time stadium foremen prepare the stadiums and the fields for play.
Additionally, a bond issue passed last year providing for the renovation of Speegle and Taft stadiums within the next five years.
“When we renovate, we will build the new fields from inside out,” Ingersoll said. “This means we will have all-weather turf, on which we may play soccer and football, and all-weather competition tracks at each facility.”
Also, Miller Stadium at Douglass is new. Twidwell Stadium at Star Spencer is undergoing ongoing improvement.
“This is very important to our district,” Ingersoll said of facility improvements, “because of the amount of play each stadium receives and the self-esteem of our kids.”
Turnover isn't just an on-field problem in the Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Coaching change has been a significant issue in the district. Capitol Hill, for example, has had six head coaches since the start of the decade. There have been four at John Marshall. At four other district schools, there have been three.
Player retention, as a result, has been difficult.
“We want coaches and not just sponsors leading our district athletic teams,” Ingersoll said. “We are really emphasizing participation numbers and the retention of our players. Our head coaches know they must do a better job of bridging players from the middle school football programs to the high school football programs.
“Once a player has established athletic eligibility at one of our high schools, we will ensure that all moves made to suburban school districts are legitimate. We must retain our players.”
Ingersoll recognized the importance of developing young players during almost three decades as a basketball coach.
The teaching and the retention of young players has been lacking in Oklahoma City Public School football. In an effort to change that trend, freshmen and jayvee teams have been replaced by Frost football, which combines freshmen and sophomores.
“We felt like we had to have one strong developmental program and do it right,” Ingersoll said.
The combined program allows schools to pool resources, develop cohesion and enjoy success.
Each of the district's nine varsity programs must field a Frost team and complete an eight-game schedule against other district teams. Games are played on Monday nights with all the trappings of a varsity game.
“We want to make these games special and important for our kids,” Ingersoll said.
Uniforms and Equipment
To upgrade football in the Oklahoma City Public Schools, Ingersoll felt the first step was improving the uniforms and the equipment.
Now, each high school team in the district receives new uniforms every three years. The same goes for the middle school teams as well as every sport in the district.
“This means that once while playing at the middle school level and once while playing at the high school level, a player in this district will wear a new uniform,” Ingersoll said.
Last week at John Marshall, for example, the new middle school home and away jerseys arrived. The Nike-brand uniforms are sharp, with a shiny sheen and a heavy-duty feel. And remember, these are middle school uniforms.
“Our kids and coaches dress as well as any program in the state,” Ingersoll said.
WHAT TWO OF OUR STAFFERS HAVE TO SAY
Set perennial losers up for success
Successful football teams have been few and far between inside the Oklahoma City Public Schools system.
Certainly, the Douglass Trojans have had a rich, consistent tradition for years. But Star Spencer only recently became a force after years of losing. John Marshall spit out a Class 5A state championship in 1995, but it has failed to maintain that success since.
Southeast has barely been a .500 program since the school re-opened in 1994. Northeast has not enjoyed a winning season since 1997.
The last winning club for Capitol Hill? 1989.
U.S. Grant? 1998.
Northwest Classen, the recipient of many beatings by Class 6A suburban superpowers? The Knights' last winning season was 1971, a 5-4-1 record that included victories over sister schools Capitol Hill, Southeast, Douglass, John Marshall and old Classen.
Look at that again. All five of Northwest's wins came against sister schools. That season 38 years ago might be something OKC Public Schools administration needs to consider to ensure that its student body looks forward to Friday night football, that schools have something to play for.
Create a Tier II football league where perennial losers, such as the aforementioned, play home-and-home games with an overall champion crowned in November.
The Jim Thorpe division would be Capitol Hill, Southeast, U.S. Grant and John Marshall
The Brooks Mosier division would have Northwest and Northeast. Centennial, a new Oklahoma City public school, and Santa Fe South, a young charter school, could join the Knights and Vikings because early indications say these inner-city pups will need all the help they can get.
Each team would play division rivals twice during the regular season, once at home and once on the road. Four other games would be scheduled vs. teams in the opposite division.
After 10 weeks, the Jim Thorpe and Brooks Mosier division champs play a title game with the winner getting a gold ball it never dreamed possible.
Assistant sports editor Scott Munn has been watching high school football in the Oklahoma City area since 1979 when he was a sophomore at Putnam North. He started covering it in 1982.
Get OKC schools out of Class 6A
Oklahoma City Public Schools football needs help from its district leaders. Adult supervision has been lacking.
Someone has allowed certain OKC schools - notably Northwest Classen and U.S. Grant - to maintain enrollments greater than 1,200 students, which typically sends a school into Class 6A.
Oklahoma City Public Schools are not equipped to compete in 6A. In anything. Not athletics. Not music. Not any extra-curricular activity. Especially football.
Inner-city schools struggle to compete against suburban schools in football. That's not just an OKC problem. Putnam City, Putnam West, Midwest City and Del City are examples of former suburban schools whose socio-economic status evolved into inner-city schools, with a dip in football success.
Tulsa Public Schools have no school in 6A. Neither should Oklahoma City. In such an environment, smaller schools help in myriad ways, from fostering a more community atmosphere to more compatible opponents.
OKC's Class 5A schools certainly don't dominate, or even win consistently. But inclusion in 6A is a death sentence for any Oklahoma City Public School. Re-draw the boundaries and make sure we have no more Tulsa Union-U.S. Grant match-ups.