Rebul keeping program afloat despite low numbers

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 19, 2002

[08/19/02]Rebul Academy’s football program is on life support, but first-year coach Ben Ashley refuses to quit giving mouth-to-mouth.

The former Mississippi College assistant is doing everything he can to keep breathing life into a program that had only 10 players come out for the varsity.

Instead of letting the season go to waste, Ashley is trying to schedule games of 8-man football in hopes of one day returning the Raiders to a regular team again.

“We have notified the MPSA that we will not be playing our schedule and I have been calling around trying to find eight-man opponents,” Ashley said. “We’re scrambling to get games right now. A lot of teams in Alabama have already got their schedule filled. But there’s 10 teams, so that means nine games and everyone has an open date, at least.”

As of now, Rebul has scheduled two games against 8-man opponents and is attempting to place more teams on the schedule, including the Mississippi School for the Deaf in Jackson, the 8-man national champions last year.

The Raiders have secured games with Tuscaloosa Christian in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Emmanuel Christian in Columbia. Both games would be more than a three-hour commute for the Raiders.

“I’ve seen this happen before, but (the players) came out by the school year, and we’ve been able to produce some more players,” first-year assistant coach Kenny Williams said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we want to keep this program alive and want to keep trying, and we’re going to build this program back up to a winning tradition.”

The decision to keep the season afloat, though, was out of the Raiders’ hands once they canceled their schedule. The Mississippi Private School Association had the final say on whether the Raiders would have the opportunity to redeem last year’s 3-7 record.

“They asked permission to pursue the 8-man league because they did not have enough players to fill an 11-man team,” MPSA Director of Activities Les Triplett said. “We had two choices. Either we could make them quit, or we could allow them to keep the program alive. We decided to keep the program alive.

“But the decision would have never been made had they had enough players. If the numbers come back, they wouldn’t be allowed to play 8-man. And if they picked up more players, we might be able to somewhat salvage their schedule. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

A small student body and a lack of interest led to the depletion of numbers, players said.

“We have about 20 guys in the school and half of them aren’t big enough to do anything really,” said Zach Rowland, a senior. “People went to other schools, or they were ineligible, and people just quit, they didn’t want to play.”

But this didn’t just affect the players or the school. Ashley, a Graduate Assistant for Mississippi College last year, took his Masters Degree to Rebul Academy for a chance at a head coaching position.

“It’s discouraging, but I’m just going to stay positive,” Ashley said. “That’s all I can do. The 10 I got I guarantee you I’ll put them up against anybody’s 10. It’s disheartening, but I’m encouraged by the fact that I got 10 super kids that will show up and practice and do what I ask them.”

Ashley could have fielded an 11-man team had his own desires overlooked those of his players. But it would have meant throwing 16 members of his junior high team into the fray of high school football.

“I’m not going to put those kids out there to get their bells rung, then ask, Why don’t you want to play next year?'” Ashley said. “They’re our future.”

Never did the coaches of Rebul Academy plan on throwing in the white towel.

“We have a good junior high group coming up and I didn’t want to shut the football program down for two or three years just to let it catch back up,” Ashley said. “I want our sophomores and juniors and ninth graders to play a little bit of football this year, to keep them playing football, because if you lay a year off, it’s going to hurt you, and I don’t want that to happen.”