COLUMN: Pequea Valley football on right track
Most high school football programs have decades of tradition and history.
If you are a current player, you see banners hanging in the gym that remind you, your schoolmates and people in the community of "the year they won it all" and "the most talented team in school history."
You see these former accolades as goals to live up to and replicate so that your school can once again revel in football glory.
But what if there were no football trophies displayed? What if you walked in the gym and there wasn't any sign of past football success?
What if the weight of creating new traditions and history was placed on your shoulders?
Welcome to Pequea Valley.
Since its inaugural season in 1999, Pequea Valley has failed to register a winning record and had only achieved a 5-5 record twice.
One of those 5-5 seasons was in 2014 under first-year head coach Mike Choi.
I recently traveled to Kinzers to check in with Choi as he guided his team through a summer workout.
My initial plan was to grab some footage, talk to some players and get a few quotes from Choi about the upcoming season.
Read about that HERE.
After the players left the facility, I sat in a conference room inside school waiting for Choi to arrive. What happened next sparked my interest.
As Choi walked in, his entire coaching staff followed and sat down at a table in front of me. The head coach then told me that he and his staff wanted to explain to me why this era of Pequea Valley football is different from any other in history.
They didn't want my camera rolling. They didn't care if my audio recorder was on.
They just wanted to let me know.
The story began when Choi was still the head coach at Great Valley of District 1. He and his staff were at a coaching clinic in Atlantic City in 2014 when Choi first sprung the idea of perhaps making a move to Pequea Valley.
"At first, I wasn't sure if he was serious," O-line/linebackers coach Mike Woodward (fondly referred to as "Woody") said. "I knew of Pequea Valley, and I knew they had struggled in the past."
Choi then visited the school to talk with the administration to see if Pequea Valley would be a fit.
"I went right down the list and everything from the weight room to the field to the administration was perfect," Choi said. "At that point, I told the guys that we were coming to Kinzers."
Choi left behind a Great Valley team that would ultimately go undefeated in the regular season, win the District 1 Class AAA championship and make it the PIAA quarterfinals.
"In my mind, I knew that we had a team that was probably going to win the district title at Great Valley. I knew what I was walking away from," Choi said. "Coaching has never strictly been about winning for me or this staff. I saw a chance here to help a program and a group of kids on and off the field."
As all the coaches ran me through the gauntlet of why they made the right choice to come to Kinzers, it quickly became obvious that this staff's mindset transcended the simple execution of an off-tackle run.
"It took me about half a day before I knew we made the right choice," Woodward said. "It was so different from where we were at but not in a bad way. We went to team camp a few weeks ago, and I had three players in my car because they needed a ride. I've been coaching a long time and that was the first time that ever happened. It truly allows you to connect with the players and get to know them."
Defensive end coach Jay Shelton echoed Woodward's thoughts as he quickly adjusted to the smaller team, school and community.
"This whole community is so close-knit, not just the football team. It's hard to find that sometimes," Shelton said. "I was used to having a huge number of players, and when we got here, it was a lot easier to get to know the kids."
Offensive coordinator Stewart Ford was also initially shocked by the smaller roster but explained how he is using it to his advantage as a coach.
"Sometimes when you're at a bigger school, it's hard to keep your eye on everyone all at once to make sure they are doing things right," he said. "Sure, it's nice to have that many players, but when you have a little less, you're able to have more one-on-one sessions with the kids to make sure you getting everything out of them."
In his first year with the staff, receivers coach Mike Lane was immediately impressed with the smaller, yet responsive group of players.
"My very first takeaway was how respectful these kids are," said Lane. "They know what they are playing for and they deserve every bit of success they have this year."
Perhaps the most intriguing conversation came from junior high coach Ed Lapp, the only Pequea Valley native on the staff and the only one that has experienced the 16 brutal seasons as a community member.
"Everything about me is Pequea Valley. I went here, I live here, my kids go her and I teach here," he said. "Sometimes people look at the program and think it's an easy fix before realizing how much work and struggling goes into it. With this staff and with these players, though, I know things are about to change."
The coaches and I talked football for nearly two hours after a Wednesday practice let out and not one of them cared if a word was published. So is 2015 the year the streak is broken?
Do the Braves get to 6-4 for the first time ever?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Regardless, they're on the right track.
"Some people might see this program as a stepping stone job. That's not us. This is our end game," Choi said. "We chose to come here. This is the program we want to attach our names to."