Starting Fresh: Firebirds, Lions begin fall practices

Gage Foster (5), Jordan Preston (12) and a line of Free State quarterbacks throw during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the high school. Monday was the first day for football practice.

On the first day of practice Monday, about half of Free State High’s football players were wearing white jerseys and the other half were dressed in black jerseys.

It’s the beginning of a move to a platoon system, which has players primarily on only one side of the ball. Players on offense are in white, defense in black. Some will shift in between the two colors.

“We’re trying to do a little platooning this year, but that being said, we’ve got about 10 guys that are going to be working both sides of the ball,” Free State coach Bob Lisher said.

The Firebirds practiced for 50 minutes in the morning at 7 a.m., using that time to install parts of the playbook. That allowed the team to focus on drills in the afternoon.

“Real good to be back and get back into it,” Lisher said.

Lawrence High players weave through a set of pads on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the high school. Monday was the first day for football practice.

Lawrence High’s football players used their morning session to practice special teams. In the afternoon, the Lions had an opportunity to run the potential starting offense against starters on the defense.

“We’re further along than we were last year,” LHS coach Dirk Wedd said.

Wedd, who plans to retire at the end of the school year, estimated there were more than 100 players in the program. That includes more than 40 freshmen, one of the largest freshmen classes in the last few years — “It’s the most talented one in a while, too,” Wedd said.

At the end of the afternoon session, Wedd said his last first day of practice felt no different than all of the ones beforehand.

“Couldn’t sleep last night, couldn’t wait for today,” Wedd said. “Fifty years ago today, I was a sophomore nervous as all get out trying to please coach (Al) Woolard at Lawrence High School.”

Volleyball

Monday marked the first day of tryouts for Free State High’s volleyball program, but first-year coach Keely Hammontree said it’s been an easy transition to the start of the season.

Hammontree had a chance to work with the team throughout the summer at team camps and other workouts and credited her coaching staff and seniors for helping everything run smoothly.

The Firebirds had 51 girls trying out across all levels of the program, which was a little higher than the number of players in the summer.

“We had two come in as foreign exchange students, I think three freshmen that weren’t quite aware of the schedule because of me being new and our website being new,” Hammontree said. “I was actually pleasantly surprised that we had more.”

Lawrence’s volleyball team opened tryouts outside on the track with 100-meter dash testing before moving into the gymnasium.

The Lions will hold tryouts for three days and about 45 to 50 girls arrived Monday. Entering her 11th season, LHS coach Stephanie Scarbrough said it’s fun to work with different groups.

“The nice thing about our profession, both teaching and coaching, every year we get to start over and we get to reinvent ourselves and just try again,” Scarbrough said.

Gymnastics

For the first two days of practices, Lawrence and Free State gymnastics teams, which practice together at LHS, will be focused on setting up mats and other equipment.

The schools’ programs continue to grow with about 25 girls showing up for the first day, with a majority attending Lawrence.

Monday marked the first day as head coach for Michelle Seidner, a former assistant coach.

“I’m ready to get out there and see what we can do,” said Seidner, who is replacing Brooke Santee. “We’ve got a lot of good gymnasts in here so I think we’re going to have a great season from both schools to be honest.”