ROCKINGHAM — Everyone knows high school football is a big deal in Richmond County, but Raiders football coach Paul Hoggard wants to make sure kids are exposed to it at an earlier age.
Hoggard and Richmond Senior High School Principal Keith McKenzie spoke about creating a youth football program before the Richmond County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday in the Richmond County Airport conference room.
McKenzie and Hoggard proposed a plan to create a flag football league for 7-year-olds to 9-year-olds and a league that plays with pads for those between 10 and 12 years of age. Each group would have six teams and 20 players on each roster equaling 120 players per age group.
Hoggard and McKenzie asked the commissioners for $50,000, which would cover the investment and first year of the league’s operation. That figure includes $10 per player in the flag football league and $36,000 marked for those in the tackle league; $100 for a helmet, $100 for shoulder pads and $100 for pants and pads per player. Hoggard and McKenzie figured another $13,000.
The commissioners took no action on the request. Commissioner Kenneth Robinette suggested the countywide program would be a good idea.
McKenzie nominated Dale Denson to be the league’s commissioner. Denson would be tasked to recruit coaches and sponsors to support the new league.
“The only youth program we have is in Hamlet and they played their first game on the first week of November,” said Hoggard. “It was 36 degrees and sleeting. My 10-year-old son was playing in that league. He got back in the car and said ‘I don’t ever wanna play football again.’ A lot of people are not aware of the youth football situation we have in our county.”
McKenzie compared Richmond football’s situation to that at Pinecrest High School.
“They had bottomed out. When they hired their new coach, he said, ‘I won’t come until there’s a youth football program,’” said McKenzie. “They were 10-2 this last year.”
The Raiders, meanwhile, were 9-4 last season. Hoggard said it’s alarming that a county that has the tradition that Richmond does lacks a better youth program.
“People say ‘Richmond is good. They’re going to always be good, don’t worry about it,’” said Hoggard. “Well it’s getting really tough. In the 16 years I’ve been here, our school has gone from 50 percent free lunch to 80 percent free lunch. We’ve gone from a blue collar school to a welfare school.”
Added Hoggard, “It all relates to football and sports. It’s a whole lot tougher than it was at one time.”
Hoggard worries those that are athletic and can play football at a young age don’t even make it to high school in a position to succeed.
“The top males that are in middle school are not ending up playing football in high school because it’s cooler, I guess you could say, to be a thug than to be an athlete.”
The Raider football coach said the youth program needs to be well organized, stress character and fundamentals and provide a consistent philosophy.
“We can’t wait until ninth grade to start teaching Raider football. Our competition isn’t waiting on us, ” said Hoggard. “Surrounding us are youth programs that promote their high school programs by teaching their fundamentals and philosophy such as Lumberton, Pinecrest, etc.”
Richmond County is unique in that every child can be in one system and taught the same from youth to graduation, and it gives the high school team, then, an advantage over multiple high school systems, said Hoggard.
Hoggard also acknowledged the county is losing good, young athletes due to parents moving out of the county to find jobs combined with less people moving in the area. Those reasons plus drugs, bad grades and and overall lack of interest and parental support have made it difficult to get those “alpha males” to the high school to play football and play it correctly.