A new era begins this season for the John F. Kennedy High football program.
Kennedy and Valley Park will begin their first co-op football season Friday (Aug. 22) on the road against Jefferson Blue Jays in Festus.
In the spring, when Kennedy, located in Manchester, announced Valley Park students were eligible to play football for Kennedy this fall, student athletes and parents at both school were excited.
Valley Park has never had a football program. The merging of Kennedy and Valley Park has created full varsity and JV teams playing as Kennedy.
The merger also moves Kennedy up to Class 4 according to the Missouri State High School Activities Association. The Celts now are playing in a more competitive district. Kennedy has been placed with Pacific, Priory, St. Clair, St. Francis Borgia, Sullivan, Union, and Westminster Christian Academy.
Clearly, the Celts will have to improve to compete with those schools.
It’s been tough in recent years for the John F. Kennedy High football program althought the program had a winning season in 2012.
Last year, the Celts were winless in 10 games. Numbers for the program at the school were down. Kennedy finished the season with 18 players. It had started with 27.
Now with the merger, it’s like oxygen has been pumped into the program.
Kennedy has a new coaching staff, under the direction of first-year coach Tim Teicher. Teicher was a standout in high school at Principia and he also played in college at the Buffalo University.
Moreover, Kennedy’s will be wearing new uniforms and helmets.
Joe Walterbach, the Kennedy athletic director, said he John Sullivan, the AD at Valley Park, got together during a gathering.
“When John and I both became athletic directors, we kind of talked about having a football team together at the MIAAA conference at the Lake of the Ozarks,” Walterbach said. “When we got back in town, we continued the discussion and brought it up with both of our school administration and school board, and both were on board and really liked the idea.
“Last year, we applied for the co-op with MSHSAA and they approved it.”
“Joe and I have discussed the possibility of this taking place the past couple of years,” Sherman said. “We have met several times in the last year with our principals to iron out the details.”
The decision was huge, Teicher said.
“It’s salvaged the program for Kennedy. It allows participation for Valley Park,” Teicher said.
For Walterbach, it’s a win-win for both high schools.
“For Kennedy, it really helps our football program in terms of numbers,” Walterbach said. “It also has Kennedy and Valley Park be community partners. A lot of our students are from Valley Park or surrounding areas and it’s great to see the two schools come together.”
It’s a big deal for Valley Park as well.
“This is an exciting time for us. We have not had football in the 132 years Valley Park has been in existence,” Sherman said. “This gives our kids an extra opportunity to participate in an activity in the fall. We have several of our student athletes that are playing football that would normally not be participating in a fall sport.
“We have lost some kids in middle school in the past because we did not have football in high school. This hopefully will keep kids in our district. These kids that will stay will also help our school academically as well as help our other sports. I feel this is a win-win situation for us.”
With bigger numbers now in the program, Kennedy can have a full junior varsity schedule.
Overall, there is a sense of excitement surrounding the program that had not been there.
“It’s huge. There is a buzz in both of the schools,” Walterbach said. “Valley Park is going to bring their band to some games to play with Kennedy. When we hosted the jamboree last Friday, the stands were packed. We are not only just fielding a football team, we are fielding a very competitive football team.”
For Sherman and Valley Park, Friday nights will be a date to anticipate this fall.
“There is a huge sense of excitement amongst our students, staff, and community,” Sherman said. “We have always talked about how exciting it would be to experience the thrill of a Friday night football game. Our kids on game day last week for our jamboree walked around school with their jerseys on proud as could be.
“It was great to see. I had chills watching our kids participate in the jamboree last week. It was awesome. I really look forward to experiencing this upcoming season.”
The merger has gone well.
“Everyone at Valley Park has just been great to work with. It really is going smooth,” Walterbach said. “I’m so happy that both of these schools are coming together and supporting these football players.”
The co-op agreement is for two years.
“At the end of it, Valley Park may decide to start their own program,” Teicher said. “Or we could sign an extension.”