FAIRBORN — Coach Rich Coolman of the Fairborn fifth grade Wee Hawks team said the community should “be ready” for them next season.
The 29-player team won all but two of its games this season — tying one and losing Saturday’s championship game against Meadowdale. It was the first time a Fairborn football team had made it to this level since 2011.
“The season itself has been amazing,” Coolman said. “I can’t ask the kids to do much more than what they’re already doing. They play with heart every time they’re out there, give it everything they’ve got.”
Coolman started coaching the players when they were just first graders. But they will begin their final season together as sixth graders in July 2016, as the boys who choose to continue participating in the sport will play for Baker Middle School upon entering seventh grade.
“My biggest thing has been watching them grow,” he said. “Not just grow as football players, but as individuals. You see their personalities come out, how they mingle with people and you see them grow into young kids, teenagers. I know I’ll have this bond with these kids for as long as I’m around … They’re family, we’re creating a family.”
He started his coaching experience with the boys by teaching them what football is; they began their time on the team running around and not completely understanding what was going on, but the players have since grown and progressed into a more skilled team.
“It’s like coaching soccer for that grade (first), where it’s just a mass of kids running from one area to the other,” Coolman said. “They don’t really understand what’s going on, so you start with the basics — teaching these kids ‘what is football’ and building on [that]. To see them grow each year and progress through understanding the game is one of the things that keeps me going. I want to see where they’re at next year; I want to work with them more. When they’re younger, you start with just the basics. Now that they’re older, we’ve been able to incorporate some things that even some of the high schools don’t do yet.”
At this point, the team has incorporated wristbands, calling by numbers and reviewing plays through the wristbands. He said the lineman on the team are learning high school-level blocking assignments.
“It’s all in preparation to get these kids ready for that seventh, eighth and into high school [level],” he said. “I take that very seriously, especially here in Fairborn because that’s the future of our program.”
When the players were in third grade, Coolman was diagnosed with cancer and went through chemotherapy. Although he was unable to get onto the field itself, Coolman never missed a game or practice; in the mornings, he would attend his appointments, but would make it to the field by the afternoon. Earlier this year, he tore his meniscus and will undergo knee surgery and recovery during the off season.
He asks his players to “all out, all game, all season” long and felt that if he could be dedicated enough to be there for them throughout the times he spent in pain, he would be leading them by example.
“I used that as a teaching moment with them,” Coolman said. “Even though it was tough for the family, I wasn’t going to miss practice or a game — I was going to be there to show them that even though I couldn’t be running around or [be a physical coach] I was still there … Other than family, it was the one thing that helped me push through, the fact that I needed to be there for them. They kept me motivated to continue the fight, so I could go out and motivate them to continue the fight. That was the first year we went undefeated.”
He aims to get the team more involved in the community, and hopes to see in response the community get more involved with the team. Before each game, he prays with the players, and is appreciative for having the opportunity to share his faith. He alerts the parents of this tradition before the season begins, but within his five years of coaching no Wee Hawks parents have been opposed to such.
His wife, Michelle, serves as a Wee Hawks cheerleading coach and the “team mom.”
“The love the kids are so eager to give to you is why I keep going back out,” she said. “For me, that’s the most beneficial — the relationships we create, not just at the field but outside.”
Its player awards banquette took place just after Saturday’s championship game, and parents are already asking when sign-ups for next season will take place. Although they lost Saturday’s game, they are determined next season to take the first winning championship title for Fairborn since 2006.
“All out, all game, all season,” Coolman said. “They’re going to come out hungry, they’re going to come out with something to prove.”
Whitney Vickers can be reached by calling her directly at 937-502-4532, or by following her on Twitter by searching for @wnvickers. For more content online, visit our website or like our Facebook page and join the conversation.