Kelly makes football team from scratch

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Kelly head coach Kenneth Riedinger declares a touchdown against St. Vincent in the third quarter Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 in Benton, Mo. (Laura Simon)

Kenneth Riedinger has played college football, coached eight-man football in northwest Missouri, coached high school football in the grid-iron-crazy state of Texas, and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Kennett High School.

Needless to say, he knows what a football field looks like.

And in 2011, the piece of land that he first laid eyes upon just southeast of the Kelly High School building was no football field. Inside the track that enclosed the parcel was a high jump pit and a long jump pit.

In retrospect, the pits might have been the apt description for the facility in terms of football. But it was the starting point for Riedinger, the new football coach at Kelly High School, which was venturing into football for the first time since its formation in 1957.

"When schools add football, they normally add it to a new school, not a pre-existing school that wants to start it up," Riedinger said. "We were pretty unique in that."

Kelly head coach Kenneth Riedinger speaks to his players during half time of their game against St. Vincent Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 in Benton, Mo. (Laura Simon)

The Scott County R-IV School Board approved the startup of a football program in the spring of 2010 after receiving a petition with enough signatures that showed the community, including local businesses, solidly backed the addition.

The school previously offered cross country in the fall and was in need of more options for students. Kelly will add girls soccer next year, and Scott County R-IV superintendent Don Moore is hoping the addition of the two sports will give students with options one more reason to attend Kelly High School.

Moore said Kelly's enrollment had reached as high as 370 students in 1997 but dipped below 300 last year. The high school, which currently has an enrollment of 338 students and a freshman class of 105, traditionally has been among five choices for students from the Kelso C-7 district to attend.

"If they wanted to play football before, the only choice they had was Scott City," Moore said. "And now they can have the choice between Scott City and Kelly."

Students from the local parochial grade school, St. Denis, also have the option between Kelly and Notre Dame.

Kelly quarterback Josh Roberts passes the ball in the third quarter against the St. Vincent JV. (Laura Simon)

"We'd like to make it a trend for people to look at our district, and part of it is people will know their kids will have a lot of activities to participate in," Moore said. "We want to make it as attractive as possible when they look at our district."

Adding an athletic program is expensive, especially football, but Moore noted that the school receives $4,000 in state aid for each student enrolled.

Moore said he knew of about seven students the school has gained this year as a direct result of the football program.

"You don't like to say what it meant monetarily, but when people say your program and coaches is costing the school, so far it is not," Moore said. "It's just the opposite."

Riedinger was hired before the summer of 2011 for year two of the plan. He's also the school's athletic director and track coach.

Kelly players prepare to take the field during the third quarter against the St. Vincent JV team on Monday in Benton, Mo. Kelly won 13-7 for its first home victory at its new facility. (Laura Simon)

His challenges went well beyond a field in need of a serious makeover. He was a coach without equipment and players. On the Internet he found a coach from California who had been in a similar situation and contacted the man by phone.

"He started a program at a high school that did not have football before," Riedinger said. "I learned a ton of stuff as far as how to set the program up. But as far as the general contracting, we pretty much did that ourselves. We went out and found the people that had a quality product that was not a budget buster."

The field and equipment was a costly venture that Riedinger said was minimized whenever possible, but the expenses were helped tremendously by the Kelly booster organization (Kelly Youth Activities Organization) and local businesses.

"KYAO has sold everything on the planet and raised a ton of money," Riedinger said.

A $9,000 scoreboard was among the numerous donations from local businesses.

Kelly fans react to a Hawk touchdown against St. Vincent in the third quarter Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 in Benton, Mo. (Laura Simon)

Riedinger, with the help of some of his future players, assisted with the installation of the sprinkler system and put in the sod. Others in the community pitched in with putting up the light poles and hauling dirt from the school's nearby baseball field to help crown the field.

"We went in with Scott City to buy our lights and got them a ton cheaper," Riedinger said about the way costs were minimized.

The facility aside, football annually is the most expensive item in a high school's athletic budget.

And the school needed to make an initial outlay for helmets and pads for the program, which Riedinger said ran about $300 a player. The bulk of the sum went toward a $200 Xenith helmet for each player.

"We put them in the best helmets money can buy," Riedinger said. "We wanted our kids to be safe."

Kelly's Riley Stark waits for the third quarter to start against St. Vincent Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 in Benton, Mo. (Laura Simon)

He recruited the hallways and started informative weekly football sessions, which started as Football Fridays but evolved into Touchdown Tuesdays. He called the one-hour after school sessions that focused on football terminology as "teaching the kids a new language." The lessons included a trip to a Southeast scrimmage this past summer.

"We crammed football into them as much as we could cram football in them," Riedinger said.

It's currently year three of the program and the Hawks are up and running. The Hawks played the third game of their nine-game JV schedule Monday night, and the Hawks' second home game resulted in a 13-6 victory against St. Vincent.

The scene surrounding the Hawks' first football game late last month demonstrated the support was well beyond signatures of a community.

The Hawks, who number about 37 players, took the field in their maroon and gold uniforms to a facility complete with lights, goalposts, scoreboard, play clocks and bleachers.

The Kelly Hawk walks amongst the crowd in the third quarter Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 in Benton, Mo. (Laura Simon)

Oh, and fans.

Moore estimated the crowd was in excess of 2,000, which well exceeded the bleacher seating for 600 people.

"We had a line for tickets, and we finally had to just open the gates and tell people to come on in because the game was getting ready to start," Moore said. "We had a five-person wide, I bet 50-yard line waiting to get in. We just told them to come in and pay later if they wanted to."

The Hawks lost that first game 16-0 to Scott City's JV.

"There was definitely a lot of nervous people, me included," sophomore receiver Dalton Huffman said. "Really you have to think it's not all nerves -- it's mainly excitement and do your best and put everything you learned in practice and put it all together."

Kelly running back Jacob Bond maneuvers the ball past a St. Vincent player in the third quarter Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 in Benton, Mo. (Laura Simon)

The learning experience provided the foundation for a 20-6 win against Grandview last week.

"We still make a ton of mistakes, but as far as getting on and off the field -- 11 guys on the field and snapping it and punting it, it's impressive to see them do that from ground zero," Riedinger said. "And actually getting to win a football game is huge. Some of the kids we're playing against have four or five years of football playing experience. Some more than that. We have some that have played before, but for the most part our kids are just as green as a gourd. But they're getting it."

The Grandview game provided a memorable moment for freshman defensive end Jacob Black, and a lesson in what a new program can provide for students.

Black, one of 17 freshmen on the team, never had dabbled much in sports, and he wasn't cut out for the sports already offered for boys at Kelly -- cross country, basketball, baseball and track.

"I played baseball before, and I was not very good at that," Black said. "I always thought I sucked at that. When it came to football, I was like, ‘This is actually pretty fun. I can probably do this.' It makes me feel happy. I have a team to be on and they like me. It's fun."

Kelly fans react to a Hawks touchdown against the St. Vincent JV during the third quarter Monday in Benton, Mo. (Laura Simon)

Black said his original plans for high school included some club involvement, but he was excited when the news came that football would be added.

"The day we put a football helmet on him, he finally found a hat that fits," Riedinger said. "He does a great job for us. He's a kid that never played, was kind of shy and didn't talk, and to see him open up and be a productive young man, it's so good to see kids to do something they never had an opportunity, and now they get the opportunity to shine. It's something that wasn't here before, and I think it was something important to the people who laid the groundwork here of, ‘Let's get more kids involved.'"

Black really got involved against Grandview, when a pass went off a Grandview offensive lineman and into his arms.

"I got a couple of yards, and I thought I was going to score a touchdown," said Black, who plans on playing four years of football.

Caleb Ratledge, one of three seniors on the team, was an offensive tackle in waiting with 320 pounds on a 6-foot-5 frame that wasn't suited too well for other sports at Kelly, although he did throw the shot and discus in track his freshman and sophomore years and tried basketball as a freshman.

Kelly fans cheer on the Hawks as they take on St. Vincent Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 in Benton, Mo. (Laura Simon)

"I've always enjoyed watching football," said Ratledge, who never played organized football. "I'm like a New Orleans Saints fan, and I have been for like seven years. I've always loved watching football, but I've never had the chance to play till now. So I took it."

Ratledge's favorite moment thus far was making the first tackle -- and a bone-jarring one at that -- against Grandview.

"New experience, and a lot of memories," Ratledge said about what he'll take away from his one year of high school football.

Junior offensive guard/defensive end Clay Williams, who played a year of organized football in Sikeston, Mo., while in sixth grade and wrestled in elementary school, said he enjoys the physical nature of football and the opportunity to vent steam.

"There's always been rumors and stuff, and you'd get all excited and it never happened," Williams said about the start of the program. "It actually happened. It's a blast."

Kelly players rest during half time of their game against St. Vincent Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 in Benton, Mo. (Laura Simon)

Playing for the first Kelly football team seems to be a badge of honor they all are eager to wear for the rest of their lives.

"I was hyped up and hoping to get to play for the Kelly Hawks first football team this year," Huffman said.

"It's something I can tell my kids and grandkids about some day," Williams added.

The school will play another year of JV next season, before stepping under the Friday night lights of varsity football in 2014. They hope to join one of the SEMO Conference divisions and likely will be in Class 2.

But make no doubt, Kelly has football. And the Hawks are homeowners.

Kelly fans cheer on the Hawks as they take on St. Vincent Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 in Benton, Mo. (Laura Simon)

"When we say protect our house, our boys helped lay the sod," Riedinger said. "Our boys helped fill up the sprinkler holes. We put the sprinkler system in. We mow it. We do the stuff. I was allowed to have a big part in everything. I got the bids. I presented them to the school board, etc. So really this is ours, as opposed you get somebody to come in and build your stadium."

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