October 11, 2013

Fledgling Oldenburg Academy football team makes strides in first season

Running back Luke Roberts heads up field for the Oldenburg Academy football team during a game against Arlington High School in Indianapolis this year. (Submitted photo)

Running back Luke Roberts heads up field for the Oldenburg Academy football team during a game against Arlington High School in Indianapolis this year. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The 18 high school football players flashed huge smiles and raised their helmets above their heads as they stood in the rain, soaking in the delirious cheers of their fans.

On a night of stormy weather that most people would rather forget, the players, coaches and fans of the football team of Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg celebrated a moment that they will remember for a long time.

For the first time in its 161-year-old history, the school is fielding a football team—a team that won its first game ever on Sept. 20 with a 19-6 victory over Traders Point Christian Academy in Whitestown.

“The entire crowd was on their feet, applauding the great effort—not just for that night, but for the season,” recalls Wes Gillman, the head coach of the Oldenburg Academy team. “Right after the game, I told the kids to go over and celebrate with their fans, to enjoy the moment.

“Then we went in the locker room and acknowledged all the hard work. There were even some tears in the eyes of the kids. As we came out of the locker room, every student and parent were still going crazy. It was just a good night for the school and the program.”

A night the players still savor.

“The fans were phenomenal,” says Luke Roberts, a junior running back and linebacker. “It was basically like the Super Bowl for us. I couldn’t be happier for the team and the coaches.”

For much of its history, Oldenburg Academy had been an all-girls school before becoming co-educational in 2000. In the past decade, there have been discussions about starting a football team, but the commitment wasn’t made until last year—a year when Gillman was hired and players began training and lifting weights for this year.

Like most beginnings, this one has been hard at times. In a school of about 200 students, including 84 young men, just 18 players form the team. And besides its historic win, the team has lost four games.

“There have been frustrations with the numbers, but overall it’s been rewarding,” says Gillman, who also teaches biology and engineering at the school. “We knew it was going to be a challenge and a roller coaster season. We’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s night and day from where we started.

“Our goals at the beginning of the year were that we’re going to give 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time, and we’re going to improve each week. If we can do those things, we will have a successful season. So far, we’ve done that.”

The players have embraced the challenge, the commitment and the fun.

“Everybody has had a blast,” says Matt Moorman, the team’s sophomore quarterback. “We’ve worked really hard, and a lot of the guys are helping out each other. With 18 guys, everyone is getting a lot of time on the field. We’ve made some great improvements.”

One of the biggest strides for the team is the unity that has developed among the players.

“At the beginning of the year, we really didn’t know each other. It was hit-and-miss with friendships,” says Luke Roberts. “The team has really come together. We’re like a family out there on the field. And our coaches are great. They’re 100 percent with us, win or lose. They’ve really brought us together.”

While most high school football teams in Indiana play a nine-game schedule during the regular season, Oldenburg Academy has started with a seven-game schedule. The two “off” weeks have been a blessing for the team, according to Gillman, giving them more time to focus on practice and to recover from some injuries.

Other blessings have included the incredible support of the parents of the players, and the increasing enthusiasm for the team from the school and the community, Gillman says.

He gives his highest praise to the student-athletes who committed to being part of a first-ever team.

“The best part is just getting to know these kids,” he says. “There are so few of them that we’ve gotten to know them well. It’s formed a bond that’s unbelievable. Their overall desire to learn the game combined with the fun we’ve had has already made it a great year. The strides this team has made are just remarkable.” †

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