These are heady times for the success-starved Waverly football program.
The Warriors (6-3) have made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and just the third time in school history.
Their 41-14 win at Fowlerville in the regular-season finale gave them six wins, which they haven’t had in a single season since 1982, the year of their first and only league football title.
The Warriors travel to Linden (8-1), the fifth-ranked team in Division 3, for their playoff opener tonight. If the Warriors win, it will be their first postseason win ever.
While Waverly has had success in other sports — most notably basketball, in which the boys won a state title in 2000 and the girls in 2004 — it has never been a consistent winner on the gridiron. Since the first year of the program in 1964, the football team has won more than five games in a season just four times, including this year.
Waverly athletic director and assistant principal Chris Huff, who coached the Warrior football team from 2006-10, said the student body’s morale suffered as a result of its gridiron struggles.
“At one point, the athletes were almost being ridiculed for being athletes,” Huff said. “Our kids wouldn’t wear their jerseys in the school because they were being made fun of and that was a problem.”
But winning football games has had a positive effect on the school as a whole.
“It’s a very big deal,” Huff said. “We’ve tried really hard, from the very top levels of the administration all the way down to the teachers, to reinforce the pride in our school, to bring a can-do attitude to our school, and having successful sports teams reinforces what we’re trying to do as a district.
Every success we’ve had is being celebrated, and we obviously take pride in those things. It’s part of changing the culture of our high school in general.”
Waverly wide receiver Derrick Hartwell has seen the attendance and attitude at the team’s games change also.
“There are lot bigger crowds, louder and more support,” Hartwell said. “Our homecoming was the most packed game I’ve ever seen. Now the students travel a lot to the away games. It’s a lot better than it used to be. It’s a great feeling.”