It’s 10 a.m. on a hot summer day and Maj. Todd Powers is standing in direct sunlight, a towel draped over his shoulder, hands on his hips and eyes trained on the field in front of him.
It’s an early glimpse of what he hopes he can mold into a successful team. Well, a team that can win at least one game, anyway.
Because that’s what it will take to top North Springs Charter High School’s 2010 record of 0-10.
“What we need to do is change direction. What changes direction is winning,” said Powers, the school’s ROTC instructor who took the helm as head coach in May. “Can we win every week? No. But can we win two or three games? Yes, we can.”
Most local high school football teams kick off their seasons this weekend and much of the attention is likely to be on the winning programs. But how do schools without a winning tradition keep the faith?
North Springs developed a reputation as a losing football program as a result of a rather unlucky few years. The team won a single game in 2009 and three games out of 10 in 2008. But 2006 and 2007 brought a famine of back-to-back years without a victory.
“One year we made the newspaper for scoring a touchdown,” said Trevor Dworetz, a former drum major and “Spartan spirit officer” for the student government.
Other schools, too, have hit bad patches. Cross Keys High School in Brookhaven, for instance, lost every game for two years before it won one in 2009 and two games in 2010. Riverwood International Charter High School in Sandy Springs won three of its 10 games in 2010 and two of 10 the year before that.
Despite its struggles on the field, the North Springs team has some loyal fans.
“We’re supportive of the football team. There’re a few kids that’ll bash them, but at least the band and student leadership are very supportive of the football team and want the student body to come out,” Dworetz said. “It’s a big deal for us when we score a touchdown. It’s something to talk about Monday at school.”
But unlike other schools in the area, the stands usually aren’t packed on Fridays.
Because North Springs is a magnet school that attracts kids from College Park to Alpharetta, it can be difficult to get high student attendance at the games, said Christina Buschman, the past president of the high school’s student government association.
“The school has always embraced the football team,” Buschman said. “Because we have so many students from far away, it’s hard to get back to school for the games.”
But a few times each season, the students fill out the stands.
“Typically there’s a lot of people at the first game, the homecoming game and the Riverwood game,” Dworetz said, referring to North Springs’ rival high school in Sandy Springs.
But later on in the season, attendance is much lighter, Buschman said.
Powers hopes to change that.
“We want to get the community involved to fill out the stands,” Powers said. “I do think there’s a sense of excitement coming for this football season, not only from the athletes but the students. I think it’s getting out there.”
True to his military background, he said he is starting with discipline.
“The No. 1 thing I wanted to bring to the program is discipline. If you can bring that to the athletes, you can build on a foundation of success,” Powers said, while watching the field.
A few minutes later he shouted at a boy across the field to tuck in his T-shirt. A group practicing offensive drills was scolded for a mistake that would have cost the team five yards in a game.
“The most important thing is team work, getting them to believe in each other,” Powers said. “We’ve had a solid corps of kids coming out. I think the student athletes are really excited about what’s coming and believe in what we’re doing.”
Dworetz said the North Springs marching band has been a consistent draw for the Friday night games. The band members dance in the stands and sometimes organize to do things like cover themselves in glow sticks while they play in the dark.
“No matter how the game is going, we try to have as much fun as we can,” he said. “A lot of the crowd comes to the game to see the band.”
Buschman said overall, school spirit is not as high at North Springs as it is at other area high schools. But this past school year, she saw several upper classmen at the games in body paint to support the team.
“I think you gradually get more proud of your school as you go up into the higher grades. Usually juniors and seniors have the most spirit,” Buschman said. “Freshmen and sophomores are kind of shy about it and don’t want to draw too much attention to themselves.”
With its art and science magnet programs, North Springs attracts a diverse group of students, she said.
“You decide, I’m going to do this weird crazy thing and paint myself blue and go to a football game. You stop worrying and realize it’s acceptable, especially at North Springs,” Buschman said. “Everyone at North Springs is so different from each other, each person is unique. There’s a lot of difference between everyone, so everyone kind of accepts each other.”
Dworetz said for the past several years the student government has made raising school spirit a priority. He thinks it’s working. “North Springs kids are resourceful when it comes to spirit,” Dworetz said. “If they have to find something other than football games, they’ll find it.”
But support for Spartan football will be there.
“I guess everything is relative,” Dworetz said. “It’s fun, even if the football team just scores a touchdown.”