Ever since being named head coach of the Ithaca High football team in early April, Kelly Gordon had been waiting for Monday to arrive.
“It (anticipation) has been slowly building,” said Gordon, a 2007 Ithaca High graduate and former all-Empire 8 player for the Bombers, after leading his first practice. “I’ve just been trying to make my way around the schools and throughout the community, building relationships and getting the players out here and getting the excitement going.”
And Gordon, the third head coach at Ithaca in as many years, liked what he saw from his small but hard-working varsity squad on the turf at Moresco Stadium.
“Well, after working hard all summer (in the weight room), it’s good to get back on the field,” he said. “Guys put in a lot of time, the coaches put in a lot of time and effort, so it’s nice to finally get on the field and do some football stuff.”
Campuses across Tompkins County came alive Monday with whistles and coaches shouting instruction and encouragement. And before they know it, the season will be upon them: The first Friday night of high school football is 2½ weeks away.
“We are excited,” Lansing third-year football coach John Winslow said. “We’ve been in the weight room and for everybody to get outdoors and get playing football, it’s fun. They’ve put a lot of time in the weight room and they are excited to see how it pays off.”
“It’s nice to be back,” said lineman Mike Gould, one of about a dozen Ithaca High seniors. “We’ve been working really hard, we had our preseason lifting program, and it’s nice to be back playing the sport again.”
Gordon took the reins from former director of athletics Bill Bryant, who replaced Ed Redmond a little over a year ago and went 1-8 in his only season. In his first stint as a head coach, Gordon is thankful for his veteran assistant coaches, including former Little Red head coach and Dryden athletic director Ralph Boettger.
Also on staff is Tom Policay, a 1978 Ithaca College graduate who’s been an assistant coach at Cornell and IC.
“It’s a huge bonus,” Gordon said. “They know the little nuances of the game and of preparation that a lot of coaches who haven’t had the experience might not know. All the details of preparation, game day and practice, all those little things are huge.”
Despite the program’s struggles — Ithaca has a 13-31 record over the last five years, including winning seasons in 2009 (6-3) and ’10 (5-3) under Ed Redmond — Gordon is aiming high.
“Obviously, the goal is to win every game, and we’re going to take it game by game,” he said. “I don’t have a number in mind as far as wins and losses, but we’re trying to win every game and we’re trying to build a program to be proud of, both in the school and in the Ithaca community. From the youth leagues to the modified and the JV and varsity, we’re trying to build this thing up as best we can.”
On the adjacent practice field, IHS boys soccer coach Gilbert Antoine was directing his large group. He reported a varsity squad of about 30 players and a JV group of around 35.
“It’s a great time, and what I’ve noticed is that the players are really excited to be here,” he said. “We had a nice turnout, over 35 JVs and 30 varsity players. Our numbers are pretty good, and I can tell that this is something that they’ve looked forward to.”
At Lansing, the boys soccer program has enjoyed tremendous success in recent years, with back-to-back appearances in the state final four and a runner-up finish in Class C last year. And even though he’s in his 18th season at the helm, head coach/AD Adam Heck said the start of a new season never gets old.
“Day 1 is always exciting, because you get to see which kids put in some work during the summer, the offseason,” he said. “You also get the alumni stopping back down and saying hello and wishing the guys and the program good luck. I enjoy seeing that. That’s really the program as a whole. It’s just nice to get back on the soccer field. I am excited for the new season.
“At the start of every year, I am just as excited as I was in Year 1,” he said. “It’s a challenge every year. I enjoy it.”
Lansing second-year girls soccer coach Eric Stickel was anxious to see how his players returned to him after summer vacation.
“I think it’s great to see who has made progress and who worked hard to get better,” said Stickel, who guided the Bobcats to a 15-2-1 record and a loss to Elmira Notre Dame in the sectional semifinals. “I was in their shoes not too long ago, so I know how they feel. It’s nerve-racking, but for the most part, I think they are excited to get back out on the soccer field, see their friends, get back to school for another successful year.”
“It’s really good to be back out here,” said senior captain Elena Parkins, a center midfielder and fourth-year varsity player. “I’ve been excited all week, to the point of butterflies in my stomach. We’ve got a lot of younger girls coming up that have been playing for five years with each other already … so it’s just getting them into our group and making a really solid team.”
Bobcats football coach Winslow is an assistant professor of physical therapy at Ithaca College, and has brought an increased emphasis on strength and conditioning. And it’s been paying dividends, at least in the weight room.
“We are definitely one of the strongest teams that Lansing’s ever had,” he said. “A couple of years ago, before we implemented the weight-training program, we had one guy that could bench 225 (pounds) and now we have 14. We have three that bench over 300. We’ve come a long way.”
Lansing travels to Groton to open the season on Friday, Sept. 6. Other games that night involving Tompkins County schools include Susquehanna Valley at Ithaca, Newark Valley at Trumansburg and Oxford at Dryden. For the second straight year, Newfield will not field a varsity football team; last year, Newfield sent several upperclassmen to Trumansburg to play, after being forced to forfeit three games in 2011 due to low numbers.
This year, Newfield will field a modified team only as it tries to rebuild its program.