By John Martin
Many accolades have been heaped on the 2015 edition of the Harrah Panthers football team.
They made the OSSAA State 4A playoffs three of the past four years.
They were the first Harrah team in more than 25 years to win a District Championship.
They were the first Harrah team in 24 years to WIN a playoff game.
But their most significant accomplishment came in other ways. The Panthers inspired and impressed not just their parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters, but a whole community came to take pride in “their” Panthers.
Thanks to groups like the HHS band, cheer, pom, Spirit Club, the Rowdy Moms and their Chicks, the Quarterback Club which is a full-time food source for the boys, and the community as a whole, Panther Football rules the roost. They are the talk of the town in coffee shops, church meetings, Harrah merchants, police and fireman. That pride and adoration does not go unnoticed by the guys in blue and white.
Another vital cog in the rebirth of Harrah football is Head Coach Phil Webb, the human dynamo who sets the tone for his team with his enthusiasm, dedication, example and skills.
But that large and very talented group of seniors is gone. No more Logan Roberson, no more Grant Martin, no more Kostner Ingraham, no more Braden Hobbs, and on and on the list goes.
Webb will be the first to admit there are many changes in store, lots of guys who don’t have a boatload of varsity experience will be on the field. And while they may be lacking in experience, they are full of enthusiasm, desire and a burning desire to continue the rich tradition that is Panther football.
The schedule has been greatly revamped with traditional rival McLoud dropped to Class 3A and delegated to the “zero” week usually reserved for team’s second scrimmage. And while Seminole and Jones remain as the other non-district foes, the new alignment pushes 4A-2 from difficult to demanding.
Gone are McLoud and Bristow, down to 3A, Glenpool, up to 5A and as we discovered at the last minute a year ago, Santa Fe South has discontinued its football program to concentrate fulltime on soccer.
And the OSSAA didn’t do the district any favors, replacing that quartet of schools with Cleveland, Bethany, Blanchard and Tulsa Central to go along with Tuttle, Tecumseh, Ada and the Panthers.
Harrah’s Average Daily Membership (not to be confused with Average Daily Attendance) of 595 as determined by the OSSAA places the Panthers right in the middle of 4A schools.
Strange as it may seem, Tecumseh (692) is the largest 4A school followed by Ada (675). Other district schools include Tulsa Central (595), Blanchard (548), Tuttle (540 … and they all play football, Bethany (548) and Cleveland (499). Muldrow is the smallest 4A school with an ADM of 489.
McLoud (480) and Seminole (446) are among the larger 3A schools while Jones sits at No. 149 with an ADM of 330.
BURCH HEADS DEFENSE
Former Prague standout Todd Burch is the new Defensive Coordinator, replacing veteran Ron Arndt, (who is slipping closer to “full retirement.)
The Panthers will face Bethany for the first time since the 2005 season. The Bronchos beat the Panthers both in 2004 and 2005 and will now be district foes for the first time in history. Harrah and McLoud will keep their rivalry alive when they open the season in week zero on Aug.26. The teams have met every year since 2006 with the Panthers taking the last two, including last year’s 60-6 demolition of the Redskins.
The Panthers will be going for their fourth straight berth in the state playoffs, coming off 7-4, 7-4, 5-6 seasons under Webb after a 1-9 mark in 2012.