Football is the Long Pole in PCA's Athletic Tent
Addition of the sport boosts excitement at Providence Christian Academy.
When discussing Providence Christian Academy's new football program, inaugural coach Ken Robinson draws comparisons to, of all things, baby elephants.
He says if babies initially are unable to pull a stake from the ground with their trunks, when they become bigger and powerful enough to, they won't even try. The analogy, he says, is that if players don't meet with partial success initially, they might become too maligned to try for several years thereafter.
"I'm a big believer in the mental side of the game and believing you have a chance," Robinson said. "When players get older, what often separates them is the mental aspect."
That's fitting for Robinson, who was hired at Providence after a year as assistant football coach and head girls track coach at Mountain View. He's always considered himself a thinker, how he viewed himself while a linebacker in high school in South Carolina, then at University of South Carolina and two seasons with the Washington Redskins.
"I wasn't a vicious player. I was more of a cerebral guy," he said. "I was more of a student of the game who knew what our plan was and what our opponent's plan was."
Sure, Robinson is focused on putting budding players through athletic paces, but he's just as concerned with their psyches and nurturing their love of the game in their first, formative season this fall. That's the "mission-mindedness" Providence athletics director Michael Woods said distinguished Robinson from the 12 who applied for the football coaching job and the five who interviewed.
"[Robinson] understands the greater calling and responsibility that coaching and teaching [social studies] allows him in the lives of students today," Woods said.
When Providence's middle school team had its inaugural week of spring practice four weeks ago, before a junior varsity team begins in 2012 and varsity in '13, Robinson considered it critical that players have a positive experience initially. He warned against some schools' fatal mistakes -- biting off too ambitious a schedule, struggling, and consequently becoming maligned.
"We want to look at the big picture," he said of decision not to dive in at the varsity level. "We want to do the initial things right and create a foundation we can build a winning program on."
Football is the long-awaited centerpiece in an already successful athletic program at Providence. From the Lilburn school's 1991 beginning with 354 students to today's 24-acre facility for more than 800, sports have been paramount. Among the Stars' biggest athletic accomplishments already are a state gymnastics championship in 2009, a softball crown in 2000 and girls soccer titles in 1999 and '07. As recently as this spring, Providence's boys soccer and baseball players reached title games.
Yet, “football has a way of transforming a community,” Robinson told the Gwinnett Daily Post. "...We're grateful to have a community that’s excited about it.”
Pete Mattix, who announced Shiloh High football games, has volunteered to do Providence's. That'll allow him to watch seventh-grade son Jake, a youth baseball player who's been working on his three-point football stance in the back yard for months.
"You're thinking about what's going to happen and how fun it's going to be," Jake Mattix said of afternoon games whose day each week and locations still haven't been determined. "I'm not that nervous, just looking forward to everything."
Mattix acknowledged memorizing plays will be challenging, but rising sixth-graders Joshua and Jonathan Tompkins already have for two years as players in the Mountain Park Athletic Association.
The Tompkins' great grandfather, Buford Ray, is in the Green Bay Packers' Hall of Fame. Now, the Tompkins boys are "really looking forward to learning the full scope of the game and role of teamwork from a professional and experienced coaching staff and playing for their own school," said the boys' dad, Dan.
Stars boys soccer coach Todd Henry has experienced first-hand how football can catapult a school to prominence. He came from a three-Parochial-school area in Knoxville, Tenn., and watched the smallest quickly become the largest with addition of the sport.
"That's what football can do," he said. "You have some kids who haven't come to Providence because they want to play football. Some kids play in city leagues and are good, but once they hit ninth grade, they have to leave [for high schools with football programs]."
But Providence's enthusiasm for athletics was a lure for Robinson, a 10th-year coach who began as an assistant at Greater Atlanta Christian in 2002 and was head coach there in '08 and '09.
"That competitive spirit is here," Robinson said. "When you make that decision, 'Is this somewhere I can go and be competitive?' That's something you consider. We're going to be competitive, which is really all I want."
Robinson said he just wants continual effort from players and success in early, measured doses.
"If you get guys willing to fight and give great effort, you're going to be successful," he said. "I see that spirit in the other programs at Providence. If I can get that, I'll take it, and I'll like our chances."