When you attempt to merge two school districts, there’s bound to be hard feelings. Like any high schools, Corning and Villisca each had their own unique traditions, and their graduates have their own cherished memories, outlined in their own school colors.
But Corning and Villisca are now the Southwest Valley Timberwolves. The colors are black, silver and teal. And the football team is doing its best to show that there’s no reason to be afraid of the future.
After blowout victories over Tri-County (62-28) and Stanton (60-12), Southwest Valley takes a 2-0 record into Friday’s 7 p.m. contest at Sidney (2-0).
Coach Kent Bass, who formerly led the Corning program (3-6 last year), has 36 athletes out, nearly half from Villisca (2-7). He believes the quick start has aided in the transition process.
“It makes everybody sleep a little better at night, that’s for sure,’’ he said. “The kids are having fun, and I think that’s the bottom line. We’ve created an environment of competing at a very high level.’’
The school districts are entering the first year of a five-year whole-grade sharing agreement. The high school is in Corning, with the middle school (grades 6-8) in Villisca. Each school has retained its own elementary.
Bass said that from a community standpoint, the change has been “fairly positive.’’ But he knows he’s not involved in every closed-door conversation.
“I’m sure there’s still some feelings out there that aren’t all that positive,’’ he said. “But we’re really focusing on the kids that we have, trying to ignore all the noise out there.
“Mom and dad may have an opinion about it. It may be good, it may be bad, but that’s not our focus. We’ve got to focus on the 35 other guys in uniform on your side of the football.’’
Senior Zach Barton has led the Timberwolves’ ground game, carrying 30 times for 285 yards and six touchdowns. The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder also is one off the team lead in tackles (21) from his linebacker post.
“Zach’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached,’’ Bass said. “He rarely comes off the field. He has a hard-nosed, wrestler-type mentality that he’s just going to get after you.’’
The co-captains are Barton and senior two-way lineman Keegan Longabaugh (6-1, 200), who leads the team in solo tackles with 15.
“He’s got the best motor of anyone I’ve ever coached,’’ Bass said. “He plays like his hair is on fire. You never do tell the kid to slow down. … He’s one of those kids that doesn’t know half-speed. He doesn’t know what the word ‘walk-through’ means. He really sets the tone for this football team.’’
Longabaugh said after the expected early awkwardness, the team is meshing well.
“We all got along real well once practice started,’’ he said. “We got to know each other, and I feel trusting in everybody out there. Everybody’s treating each other like they’ve been friends for years.’’
In the win over Stanton, senior quarterback Jordan Stuart (5-11, 175) was 6 for 9 for 196 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also a running threat and an excellent leader, the Timberwolves coach said.
Junior Scott Vanderhoof (6-2, 185) leads the team in total tackles (22), while Gunnar McCuen (5-9, 165) already has turned some heads with his hard-hitting style.
This is the last year of eight-man football for Southwest Valley. Bass believes the Timberwolves will be classified in 1-A next season.
Bass also knows it’s early. He said his fledgling program hasn’t accomplished anything yet. But he hopes the early success will continue and then spill over into other sports.
“We’re getting a taste of it,’’ he said. “Hopefully we can take a big bite out of it and continue to enjoy it for a long, long time.’’
Unlike others, Longabaugh doesn’t have a lot of time. He sees no reason to aim low in his final season.
“The goal for everybody I know and myself personally is to get to the Dome,’’ he said.