By TOMMY BRYAN, sports editor
At some point in his long tenure at Friendship Christian School, veteran teacher and coach Ron Welch had a wish.
"I asked the Lord to let me live long enough to see us win a state championship in football," Welch said.
Now, that he was on the sideline for the Commanders' 34-0 victory over Dresden in the Class 2A BlueCross Bowl -- he's considering amending that request.
"Now, I'd like to live long enough to see us win number two," Welch said Wednesday afternoon with a laugh.
Welch has seen the highest highs and the lowest lows since signing on at FCS in August of 1977 -- from the days when practice started with just nine players on the team, lopsided losses and a parade of games as homecoming fodder.
"I always thought there was a light at the end of the tunnel if we could just hang in there," Welch said, "A couple of years, we had 16 or 17 players dressed out. We were in such a shape that if we had two frontline kids get hurt, we didn't know what we'd do.
"There were some lean years, but we always had hope that we'd grow into this thing."
When asked about the turning point for the Commander football fortunes, Welch was quick with an answer.
"When Mr. (Leonard) Bradley hired Coach (Bill) Bryson to come over from Castle Heights in 1979 to take over the football program, I knew right then that he was going to get this thing going in the right direction," Welch said.
"There have been some hills and valleys since, but for the most part we've been competitive ever since."
Bryson, who spent four years coaching at FCS after leaving crosstown rival Castle Heights Military Academy, is now on the schools Board of Directors.
In my mind, Ron Welch has had more influence on Friendship Christian in general, than anyone I know, Bryson said. Hes touched so many people, had a huge impact on everyone who has come through that building. I would say most all the students can claim some unique relationship with him and all of us are better for the time weve spent with Ron.
Welch teaches Bible at FCS with all ninth graders coming through his class as well as all senior boys.
"First and foremost, we're here for the spiritual impact on these young people," Welch said, "we getting 'em coming in as freshmen and then again on their way out. We do get close to the students. That's one thing I love about teaching. It's not like a job where you go in and punch a clock. You can impact people's lives. Their souls are the most important thing. It doesn't matter how much money you make, we want to teach them to know Jesus Christ and we don't back up from that."
As Welch was walking off the field at Tucker Stadium last Saturday, two thoughts kept popping up into his mind.
One, I was thrilled for the kids, because I know how hard they've worked to get to that point, Welch said.
Number two -- I was thinking about my buddy John McNeal. I get emotional talking about it, because that's my friend over there. He's been through some things and put up with some stuff over the years -- things I guess all head coaches have to go through -- but now he's got that state championship.
Most coaches are 'system guys'," Welch said, "but Coach McNeal isn't like that. He'll draw something up on a pad and take it to the practice field. We've run everything in the world on offense over the years. John will fit his scheme to his players. Some coaches try to mold their players to their scheme.
"He will take his talent and work his offense around what his kids can do best. He's thrown it 40 times a game when he's had a passer and a bunch of receivers, then there have been times -- like this season -- where he'll line it up and run downhill.
Welch was also thinking about former players at FCS, including current defensive coordinator Duane Lowe.
"I'm just so proud of Coach Lowe -- as well as the other assistants. I coached Duane in junior high and on Saturday, I watched him call almost a perfect defensive game."
As Coach McNeal says, guys, its about the ones in the room, Welch said. We play for mom and dad for our school and everything, but what really matters is that group of guys in the locker room .
Years from now, you can imagine what those kids will be talking about. The memories theyll share -- when theyre 40, 50 or 60 years old theyll still be talking about this stuff.
And perhaps, the influence of Coach Ron Welch.
Contact Tommy Bryan at firstname.lastname@example.org