by John Goolsby
I stood on the sideline for the Shades Valley football game at Chelsea High School last night. The game was the Mounties’ 1,000th football game and the 100th anniversary of the school’s first football win. While the outcome was not what anyone wanted, and Shades Valley fell 17-6 in a tight region game, there is a bright future ahead under Coach Nelson.
I observed a coaching staff that is working very hard and truly cares about their kids. I saw kids that were coachable and played hard. I saw tears after the loss. I observed a team disappointed by the loss but determined to get back to work.
I saw a coaching staff that remained respectful to officials despite questionable officiating. I won’t go into it (I officiated for several years with officials currently in the SEC), but I have my own opinions.
I observed a group of freshmen and sophomores that will soon become upperclassmen. They were absorbing it all, and they were patiently waiting their turn.
I have talked to coaches in the metro area, and Rueben Nelson has a reputation as an exceptional coach with a heart for his players. I have been speaking to him weekly for the past few months, and I know he has his priorities in order and wants the best for his kids and Shades Valley.
What does Shades Valley currently have going for it to succeed? As I previously mentioned, a staff that is fully capable of getting the team to the next level. The school has an exceptional principal in Taki Sarhaan who emphasizes academics and athletics. He fully embraces the belief that having a successful athletic program helps the entire health of a school. Sarhaan understands that there is a need and an opportunity now to create an official alumni organization for the betterment of the school. Sarhaan’s leadership is a breath of fresh air after the abject failures of some of the previous administrations, namely, the administration that led to Coach Higginbotham’s departure (and wanted to change the school’s colors and mascot to a rainbow).
Shades Valley has an extremely nice stadium and field. The school’s large field house, while several years old, is one of the best around in terms of space and potential. There is a plan to refurbish the interior of the building, and plans have been made to redesign the weight room once funds are raised.
What does Shades Valley need to succeed? Support, support, and support. There are needs: parking cars at home games, attending games at home and on the road, working concession stands, helping with workdays, chipping in $5 to $10 for snacks, showing up for their kid’s meetings. The list goes on and on and on.
The support is also not just what you give or do. It is what you say to support the coaches and what you don’t say. Unfortunately, I witnessed an individual complain to an assistant coach as they left the field after a disappointing loss. While I appreciate the fan’s passion, it would be best to channel that passion into more productive ways.
Additional support should come from the city of Irondale and the business community. I am happy to hear reports that the current city leadership is open to and is supporting the school to some degree. As I have written before, as a Hoover resident, I see the support that Hoover and Spain Park receive from local businesses. In my opinion, the business community has failed to support their local school. I am thankful that the Irondale Chamber of Commerce is willing to partner with the school.
I understand there is an entire generation of fans that can’t imagine Shades Valley dominating the teams on their schedule, winning region titles, and playing for state championships. I have seen those things and believe this staff can replicate the previous success. From a fan perspective, making excuses and having a losing mentality must stop. It is going to take effort and commitment from everyone that says they care about Shades Valley. The time has come to take ownership of the school and the football program.
As the parent of kids that have graduated from and are currently attending Briarwood, I have seen a school that doesn’t have close to the enrollment of a 6A school be highly successful on the football field in that classification. The key to overcoming challenges is involvement and work by the entire fanbase. Are there challenges at Shades Valley? Sure. All schools have them, but they can be overcome.
I have faith in the Mountie nation. I have faith that those reading this article (current students, parents, friends of the school, and alumni) will do what needs to be done for the school they love or once loved.