BRADFORD – Through the efforts of Bradford Superintendent Joe Hurst, Principal Matt Triplett, Athletic Director John McGiffin, former varsity football coach Chris Hawk, 2018 replacement varsity football coach John Cruse and 13 Bradford high school football players, the 2018 Railroaders football program fulfilled its 10-game regular season schedule obligation.
“In January we had rumors that some of our kids were not wanting to play,” Bradford Athletic Director, John McGiffin said.
If Bradford did not meet league rules and deadlines according to the Cross County Conference constitution, the school would face stiff fines and penalties.
“The consequence at that time, we were to pay $1,000 for every away game, maximum $5,000 was the penalty in the league constitution and we would be kicked out of the league in football for no less than that year plus two,” said McGiffin. “We had a decision to make because at this time we are already past the deadline.”
“Coach Hawk, myself and the rest of the administration felt pretty strongly if we had enough kids we were going to go full-fledged varsity for several reasons,” stated McGiffin. “No. 1, it was too late for any of our league opponents to find anybody and we knew that so we didn’t want to stick it to them. No. 2, we wanted to let our seniors have a senior year. No. 3, the vast majority of our kids were upper classmen so we wanted to trudge forward,”
“Not once did Bradford ever cry uncle, not once did Bradford say they were not going to field a team, not once did these kids ever say they weren’t going to finish – not once,” McGiffin said. “I’ve never been around a more resilient, hard-nosed, hardworking group of kids, especially the seniors. They were not going to give up their senior year and we wanted this as much for the boys as the boys wanted if for themselves.”
Putting the school, the football program and the players ahead of himself, Coach Hawk volunteered to step away from the head coaching job.
“Coach Hawk made a statement that said a lot about what he was trying to teach the boys,” said McGiffin. “He may not have been as successful as he wanted to be, but it told me something. He said, ‘I tell the boys no one is bigger than the program – he said that includes the coach. I will not be the reason why there is not football at Bradford. If they will play for somebody else, then you will have my resignation by the end of the day,’ so he gave me his resignation.”
“Coach Hawk didn’t quit on those kids,” McGiffin stated. “He did this knowing that he would look like he was giving up on the kids, knowing that the kids would play for somebody else, and he stayed quiet the whole time about that.”
Needing a new head coach to step up quickly, the administration looked within the system.
“I went to someone who was already on staff – Coach Cruse,” noted McGiffin. “He said he preferred to be at the junior high. His idea was to help the junior high feed the high school but if they needed him he would step up.”
“Coach Cruse said ‘you need me,’ McGiffin said. “It was almost a sense of duty, almost like a military call – a draft. John came forward like; this is my duty, my duty to my family, my duty to myself, duty to the kids I’ve coached over the years. He has coached many of these kid’s fathers, the pride that he had for the community – he had to step forward.”
“Somebody had to do it,” Coach Cruse told the Early Bird Newspaper. “Somebody had to step up. The seniors were my main concern. They needed to have an opportunity to finish the season, they deserved it like anybody else does and the rest of the team did too.”
“We had several kids come out and say, ‘I don’t want to play football but I will not be the reason why Bradford doesn’t have football,’ shared McGiffin. “I had parents who said, ‘I made my kid come out because we will not be the reason why Bradford doesn’t have football and years from now we can say we were part of the reasons why’ – and there were several families, long time Bradford families with a lot of pride.”
“Most would have quit,” said McGiffin. “We were only dressing 13 kids, we were down to 11 on the field, there are times when you are discouraged, when you’re not getting a lot of folks building you up, when you are getting physically banged up week in and week out, you’re playing both sides of the ball the whole game – we never played the way I know our kids could play, not because of their effort, but because they played both sides of the ball, because they played all four quarters and very few of them came out of the game – ever. You can’t do that week in and week out without getting banged up.”
“If the administration hadn’t said, we’re putting all of our chips in – we didn’t put our chips based on us, we put our bets on the kids because when the kids said, we want to finish the season, when the majority of the kids said, we are going to finish something we started, we then as an administration said – we’ll put our chips on you because if our kids were going to be in it – we were going to back them and we were going to do everything we could to fight for them.”
“We were always making sure our kids were safe,” added McGiffin. “If our kids wouldn’t have been safe, we wouldn’t have done it. We knew how tough the kids were, we knew how resilient the kids were.”
2018 Bradford Football Roster including grade: Jay Roberts (11), Hunter Gheen (12), Wyatt Spangler (11), TJ Brewer (9), Gaven Trevino (11), Taven Leach (10), Josiah Brewer (12), Kegan Fair (11), Ethan Reed (10), Andrew Moyer (12), Dylan Mitchel (10), Jarrett Boggs (12), Austin Crickmore (10), Larkin Painter (12), Connor Jones (10), Lawrence Farmer (9)
Coaches: Head Coach John Cruse, Asst. Coaches Dylan Parke, Austin Reedy, Lowell Byers, Damon Brewer
“Great bunch of kids,” concluded Coach Cruse. “They worked hard, they come to practice every day and we did the best we could. It’s just hard to simulate with only that many guys.”
Though ending the season 0-10, the team is a winner both on and off the field while keeping football alive and well at Bradford High School.
“Dedication unrivaled,” Bradford Superintendent Joe Hurst said of the Railroaders players. “They stepped up not only for themselves but for the future.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Bradford seniors Larkin Painter (80) and Josiah Brewer (41) look on as the game and season wind down in Bradford’s final game of the year at Ansonia. (Gaylen Blosser photo)