Opinion: Though it's not the solution many had hoped for, West Orange playing its final two games at Olympia High is still a positive development and a good example of schools working together.
Twenty schools, one team.
That’s the idea behind the #OCPSRivalryLove hashtag you may have seen on social media.
Small examples of the idea abound — Metro Conference coaches often present a player from an opposing team with a sportsmanship award after games, for instance.
But, with the announcement that West Orange would play its final two home games at Olympia High, we’re seeing an example of “rivalry love” and the “one team” mentality on an impressive scale.
“I think if the roles were reversed, we’d expect them to do the same thing,” Olympia Athletic Director Aaron Crawford said Friday. “We kind of preach that with the ‘20 schools, one team’ mentality throughout the county. We’re here to help each other, whether it’s borrowing a facility or giving feedback on how to do the job the right way.”
For those unfamiliar with the situation, a quick refresher: During Hurricane Irma, two stadium lights at West Orange High’s Raymond Screws Field were blown down. One fell forward onto the field, creating a secondary problem of glass shards scattered about and embedded in the turf. A third light pole appears to be unstable.
Originally, it looked as though the Warriors simply would have to play their remaining home games after Irma at their opponents’ home field, as they did this past week with a game at Cypress Creek that was supposed to have been West Orange’s Homecoming game.
“I think if the roles were reversed, we’d expect them to do the same thing. We kind of preach that with the ‘20 schools, one team’ mentality throughout the county. We’re here to help each other, whether it’s borrowing a facility or giving feedback on how to do the job the right way.”
— Aaron Crawford, Olympia High Athletic Director
Now, at least, there is an alternative solution. And I know what some of you are thinking, too: Although closer, it’s still not the same.
Olympia does a great job with its facilities, from its branding efforts throughout the grounds to having the student section bleachers in one of the end zones. But, at the end of the day, there’s something special about the old Metro Conference stadiums with the concrete grandstands.
As the saying goes, “They (literally) don’t build them like that anymore.”
West Orange, in particular, has a great home-game atmosphere anchored by the rabid support the Warriors get from the community.
I can’t imagine how bummed seniors for West Orange must be — seniors who had no idea that a loss to Dr. Phillips in Week Three actually would be the last time they would ever charge out onto that field for a game.
Still, it must be acknowledged that this collaboration between Olympia and West Orange, something that OCPS Athletic Director Doug Patterson helped push through, is important.
Here’s why: Those remaining two games are still “home games” for West Orange, meaning the Warriors still get the gate proceeds. Football gate and concession revenue constitutes an important part of any school’s athletics budget, helping to fund other sports that don’t produce much revenue.
The game that would have been at Timber Creek is scheduled for a Monday (Oct. 9) — meaning a commute across the county to east Orange County just after rush hour. The game against Evans (Senior Night for the Warriors) is closer than Timber Creek, but it still stands to reason that many may not have made trip.
Moving to Olympia guarantees a better turnout, meaning the school’s athletics department will get money it needs and the Warriors will get the fan support and turnout they deserve.
“What a great, great community. Every day, I have someone reaching out and looking to step up and do what needs to be done. Parents that don’t even have kids here anymore, they’re all coming back — it’s amazing.”
— Jerry Shafer, West Orange Athletic Director
“Traveling all the way to Timber Creek (in east Orange County), you’re not going to get a fan base traveling that far on a Monday night,” Shafer said. “For Olympia to allow us to use their field, it just goes back to this being bigger than one game or one program — we take care of each other.”
In fact, although this unfortunate situation has not resulted in a perfectly happy ending, it has — once again — shown how this community will rally behind its school. Shafer, new to the job after being hired over the summer, said he was shocked at how much response he has gotten from the West Orange community, with people wanting to know how they can help.
“What a great, great community,” Shafer said. “Every day, I have someone reaching out and looking to step up and do what needs to be done. Parents that don’t even have kids here anymore, they’re all coming back — it’s amazing.”
Sometimes, unfortunate things happen. But it’s nothing if not encouraging to see the way two rival schools have worked together and the way the community has engaged with this development. Here’s hoping for two memorable games at the Warriors’ temporary home away from home.