Unaka aiming to bulk up middle school football numbers

By Marvin Birchfield

   Practice for Unaka middle school football will begin on Aug. 4, at Hunter Elementary, from 3 p.m. till 5 p.m., and anyone from Unaka, Hunter or Keenburg in grades 6-8 is more than welcome to participate.
   "I just want more kids to come and try out -- I think once they try it, then they'll really enjoy it," said Unaka middle school coach Matt Wilson.
   Wilson came from South Greene last season to take over the program, and it didn't take the Rangers long to gain other school's respect by being more competitive than in years past.
   "I just want to be able to build a good program like the basketball and baseball teams have here at Unaka," said Wilson.
   The one problem Unaka has faced with both their high school and middle school teams is the lack of success in recent years, which has made it difficult in acquiring the numbers to form a winning program.
   "We had just 21 kids last year, and you feel the pinch when you don't have enough players to fill all the spots you need too," said Wilson.
   Wilson did a good job with what he had last season, and it showed out on the football field that he knew how to turn things around and give the kids the confidence they need.
   "I really don't want any credit myself. All I'm concerned with is that kids come out to play and have fun doing it, so they'll possibly decide to continue once they reach the high school level," said Wilson.
   Unaka will be returning most of what it had last season, so the success should become even greater this season, but still there's a need for participation in order to keep things on an up swing.
   "We were a young team last year made up of mostly seventh graders, but I would definitely like to see more players come out and see what we have to offer," said Wilson.
   "My goal is to bulk up the numbers. In order to have a good high school program then it has to start from the middle school level, and hopefully we'll find some stability."
   The kids that are already part of the Ranger ball club primarily exist from Hunter, with several also coming from Unaka Elementary and a few from Keenburg.
   "There was a lot of kids that came out and played for us from Hunter last year, and if we can get some more people from Unaka Elementary and Keenburg, then hopefully we'll be able to fill a 30-40 man roster," said Unaka High school coach Mike Ensor.
   In order to have success and for it to carry over, then coaches from both the middle and high school must be on the same page, and that seems to be what is transpiring at Unaka right now.
   "Mike has been great. He's come down and talked to the kids several times and has always helped with whatever I've asked of him," said Wilson.
   Wilson and Ensor go way back when both guys played high school baseball together at Unaka, and it always helps when two guys are able to communicate and have been a part of the same success.
   "He's a Ranger which helps drive him to better the program and his main agenda is just to get the kids to come out and play, so they'll be ready for the time they get to high school," said Ensor.
   There's a mutual respect the two coaches share between themselves, and after talking to both it's easy to see that both men care not only about their school but also about welfare of the kids.
   "We think we're headed in the right direction. All we're concerned with is trying to promote that the kids have fun and encourage them to give it a try because we think they'll enjoy it," said Ensor.