Sailing into a new school year with Mapleton sports

Last year’s Mapleton High School football team played a short season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year has a fuller season, as well as a switch to six-man football.

Athletic Director gives update on new hires for football

Aug. 25, 2021 — This summer, Mapleton Athletic Director Carrie Dean has been quite busy at the helm of the Sailors’ sports program. As Dean has been preparing for the new school year, she has had to make some very important new hires for the football program after 20-year veteran Coach Jeff Greene’s retirement at the end of last season.

“All of the coaches from last year pretty much retired at the same time,” said Dean. “We have two alumni coming to coach our football team this year: Tyler Krueger, who graduated in 2012, and Tucker Ford, who graduated in 2015. … Tyler and Tucker are both excited about coaching and starting a new era for football with Jeff Greene being gone after 20 years.”

Mapleton High School is starting six-man football this year.

“We’ve got seven kids out right now; hopefully we’ll get one or two more, but we have enough to start the season,” Dean added.

With two new coaches and a major change to the style of play in moving from eight-man to six-man football, there has been a great deal to consider, but fortunately, Kruger is not entirely new to the school or the game.

“Tyler actually coached the last year we had middle school football, and he coached a couple of years for us,” said Dean. “The last year we had middle school football, it was six-man football. So, he has a bit of experience at least with six-man.”

Making the change from eight-man to six-man football at the high school level is perhaps one of the biggest changes made to Mapleton’s sports program in quite some time, and, except for Krueger’s year coaching middle school in that style, it is new to everyone involved.

“It will be interesting, and I've told them, we're all learning,” said Dean. “We've never done this before [at the high school level]. Tyler has one year under his belt, and some of the kids who are playing played on his team. So, it's not like it's a totally brand-new thing. But there are rules that we're not used to.”

For one, the quarterback can't run with the ball, a pretty major adjustment for coaches who have traditionally planned plays where they could utilize that position to bring the ball up the field if necessary. Additionally, to secure a first down, players must gain 15 yards rather than just 10.

“There are some changes that we have to adjust to,” Dean said. “But I think it'll be fun. And at least we have football!”

The switch to six-man is also timely, as the majority of schools Mapleton’s size, particularly those who are more local and within Mapleton’s normal league, have moved to that style of play in recent years.

“There are about 26 teams in the state of Oregon now that are playing six-man,” said Dean. “It's at the point where they were able to extend our season by two weeks, so we can have a playoff like everybody else. It's still in the pilot program, but when you have that many teams, you're going to have to do something. We had 50 teams that were eight-man and now half of them are six-man. I think now in the Mountain West League, there's only one team that's left playing eight-man, and that's Mohawk.”

This means the rest of the league is now six-man.

“Which is cool, because now instead of having to go meet halfway for a game because the team is six hours away, it’s all our normal league,” Dean said. “It's still a special district, but we're playing local compared to what we did if we would have played six-man last year. So, it’s kind of cool that we get to play the teams that we're used to, and we don’t have to travel far.”

More than anything, Dean is happy the kids get to play at all, and just hopes they enjoy themselves and grow as athletes in the process.

“As long as they're having fun and they do the best they can, and we learn and make improvements, that’s all I'm asking for,” she said. “At least we have a football program; Jeff was really worried if we didn't have football this year, we'd never have it again.”

Part of the concern was the fact that not enough students were signing up to play after the middle school program, which obviously feeds into the high school program, was placed on hold.

“Middle school [football] is coming back this year after two years of not having a team,” she said. “We just keep trying every year, and as long as you keep trying and offering it, you're going to get the numbers eventually.”

As mentioned, Krueger coached middle school football his first year at Mapleton, and in his second year the team made the move from eight-man to six-man football. However, in his third year, not enough students came out to play, so the middle school did not have a team, and the following year was canceled as well due to the pandemic.

Fortunately, this year, the demand was there, so the alignment of the programs can return to building over the years at Mapleton. Additionally, there are plans to foster the program from even earlier in students’ careers with support from the community.

“Getting middle school back will help a lot,” said Dean. “Some parents and some of the teachers and staff are trying to work on getting the elementary more involved in sports. So, instead of starting at middle school, and trying to teach kids stuff, we're trying to get them started younger again, because that's part of building the program.”

This year, Dean brings another Mapleton alumnus, Brian Barrows, on board to coach the middle school football team. Barrows also assists Coach Eric Wolgamott in coaching the boys’ high school basketball team.

“It's kind of exciting to have people that are invested in the community come back to coach, because that doesn't always happen,” said Dean. “When they're invested in the community, they're more apt to stay longer. You can’t build a program if you're constantly changing coaches, so if you can get stability with the coaches, it gives stability to the program.

“Tucker wants to stay here, and Tyler has never moved from this area, so it's nice to have established people to come and want to help coach.”

Dean did the same thing herself and has been involved in local sports in the area since she was a child.

“When I was in school, I remember playing basketball and softball through the Territorial Sports Program (TSP) in Veneta, starting at third and fourth grade,” she said. “When they start that young and work up, the kids have been playing together for years, not just two weeks then starting the season. I know we're working on trying to do that and getting flag football in the school, because that will help at least get the fundamentals down. Then, when they hit middle school, they can throw in the tackling, and they're not learning everything [at once]; they'll have the basics already done.”

It’s something the school district has been able to do with another sport, basketball. Mapleton has been utilizing the local basketball programs through Florence’s Boys and Girls Club over the years, which has helped that program thrive.

“We've had the basketball for a while, but we're hoping that the Boys and Girls Club will have their sports starting up again this fall so we can do the flag football for the kids,” she said. “I called them in July, and they didn't know if they were going to have their sports again this fall; they were still in limbo. So, if that's the case, we’ll definitely try to get the flag football going for the kids, and hopefully, we can get one or two teams going.”

Mapleton might be able to do basketball through TSP, as it has done in the past.

“If we can get more of that involvement going, it just helps the future of the whole system, and not just part of the system. Some of these kids have been playing together since first, second, third grade, and it makes a huge difference,” Dean said.

As she works to build the school’s various sports programs and begins another school year as the athletic director, Dean is hopeful and ready to have things get back to normal as far as scheduling goes.

“I’m just hoping everything is more normal than it was last year,” said Dean. “We're starting the season and we're expecting it to be like a normal sports year. I've done everything except track, which we never do that until later in the year anyway, but it's just weird compared to last year where we had to cancel and change so much. I don't want to do that again!”

Last school year as sports started up again, Mapleton had a particularly difficult time with changes and cancelations from other schools in their league.

“Football was the worst; in the first five weeks of games, I had all of them change at least once,” Dean said. “I'm just like, ‘Seriously, again?!’ I’d walk up to the football field, and Jeff would be like, ‘Now what?’ I'm like, ‘Sorry, they canceled! It's not my choice, believe me!’”

Certainly, the changes were challenging to keep up with for everyone involved.

“It was just hard on [the team],” Dean said. “You get all worked up to get ready for that game, and then you get shot down, and then you get worked up, and then you get shot down. We ended up with a decent season, but we already had enough issues to deal with, and then to have to deal with those kinds of changes, stuff that was out of our hands … there was nothing we could do. But is what it is. We made it, and we survived on to hopefully a better year of sports.”

Dean is also happy that Mapleton was able to have sports at all last year.

“It wasn't the ideal situation, but at least the kids were able to be on the court and on the fields and participating and not just sitting around doing nothing,” she said. “It was a crazy year, and it was hard for everybody, but we made it!”

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