The first day of fall football practice is equal parts optimism, sweat and paperwork.
Organized chaos if you will.
Such was the case in the Inland Northwest on Wednesday as high school football players – along with 4A and 3A volleyball players – kicked off the 2004 season.
Starting football a few days earlier than other sports began last season. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association made the change so teams would have the mandatory 12 practice days prior to the first weekend of September, allowing most schools the option of a 10th game.
Upper-classification volleyball starts early this year because the Everett Events Center, the state tournament site, is booked for the tournament’s usual weekend, necessitating a week-earlier finish – and start – to the season.
But whenever a sport begins, the first day is always full of promise.
There’s the promise of the season ahead.
“I can’t wait for the first day,” said Jesse Wilhelm, a senior lineman for defending Greater Spokane League champion Mead. “But I really can’t wait until we can put on the pads and hit.”
The first three days of football practice are dedicated to conditioning, with players sporting helmets and shorts. After that, the pads come on and teams find out what they have.
After a summer of hard work, Wilhelm has a pretty good idea about the Panthers.
“We’re going to be good – if we work as hard as we did last year.”
The Panthers started early Wednesday, and one of the first things they were told by head coach Sean Carty was, as defending league champs, they have a target on their back.
One of those teams aiming for Mead’s crown is Shadle Park, which finished second in the GSL last year.
Highlanders coach Mark Hester, like all of his peers, was dealing with another opening-day promise: Not all 16-, 17- and 18-year-old high school boys are going to have their paperwork completed.
Shadle’s first day got off to a slow start as kids ran through the paperwork drills, but Hester wasn’t complaining. He was too happy to be starting another season, one with more promise than usual.
“We weren’t very experienced last year and we were successful,” the nine-year Shadle coach said. “This year we have more experience, so our biggest challenge is to make them believe they have to work even harder to achieve the same success.”
Success hasn’t been on the schedule for the West Valley football program recently, but first-year head coach Craig Whitney aims to change that at the GSL’s smallest public school.
As Whitney prepared for his first practice as the Eagles’ head coach – a practice that held the promise of a lot of sweating in the 80-degree heat – he explained the foundation he was trying to build.
“We had a list of 108 kids that we kept in touch with over the summer,” he said. “That’s what we concentrated on, not the Xs and Os, but the kids, keeping the numbers up.
“It’s about building kids. Without them, we’re nothing. We want to have as many kids as we can, and we want to have kids who love to play football.”
That’s something Central Valley head coach Rick Giampietri understands after 35 first days.
Though coaching is different than it was 35 years ago when he started as an assistant, coaches still get to deal with the cream of the crop, “the best, kids who are highly motivated,” Giampietri said.
They have to be due to the transformations Giampietri has observed in the football “season.”
“It has changed so much,” he said. “We have spring camp now and then we are with the kids pretty much all summer, so our offense and defense are already in place by now.
“When I first started, everyone worked during the summer so the first practice was a chance to get to know the kids again, to see what you had. Now we know when we get out here.”
The same is true for all sports, including volleyball.
Judy Kight, coach of defending state 4A champion Mead, spent the first part of practice handling paperwork, the rest working on skill evaluation.
“It’s no different than the football players,” Kight said. “We’re excited and nervous at the same time.
“The first week we’re evaluating our skills and talents, so the girls are nervous about how they will perform.”
The excitement? That comes from defending a state title. A task they’ve been preparing for all summer.
“These kids have worked harder than any group we’ve had,” said Kight. “Now it’s time to play.”