Spartans keep Schenley name

| Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008

High schools have dropped football programs before. But to have a program without a school, well, that's as rare as a Chicago Cubs World Series win.

The Schenley Spartans will enact that unlikely scenario. Schenley was closed in June, but the program will continue playing under its old name.

"I don't know too many programs in the nation that have had that problem," first-year Schenley coach Jason Bell said as the team began fall practice Monday at its usual practice field behind the former Milliones Middle School, now known as University Prep.

After Schenley was closed in June, the Spartans' roster was spread across three different schools, like the rest of the school's student body. Upperclassmen are in Reizenstein, while incoming freshmen are split between Frick School and University Prep. The players who attend Reizenstein and Frick will be bused to practice every day.

Aside from the busing situation, most of the logistics for the upcoming season are being done on the fly. During the break between practices Monday, Bell was speaking with school officials to make sure his players would be able to receive early dismissals from their respective schools on game days.

Some aspects of the program are starting to come together, though. An old gym at University Prep has been converted into a locker room for the team, and a new weight room should be ready by next week.

"It doesn't put us at a disadvantage," senior left tackle Emmanuel Bell said about the changes to the program. "We come out here and practice hard. That's all we can do."

In the long run, the program's name will reflect its new home. This season's sophomores will be the final class of Schenley players. By the time this year's freshmen are seniors, the team will be known officially as University Prep. It is uncertain if the future team will keep Spartans as its nickname.

With the drastic upheavals that surrounded the team in the offseason, getting back on the field has been a welcome respite.

"It's feels good, because this is what everyone likes to do," senior quarterback Eric Carter said. "It relieves everybody, because we don't have time to think about that."

Actually, scattering to different schools has paled in comparison to what the Spartans have endured in past years. In 2007, a player's father was killed just days before fall camp, another player's house burned down, and another found out during a JV game that his mother had died. In 2006, Carter's father died.

"When you look at it in perspective of that, playing without a school is really not that bad," Bell said. "It could be a lot worse. That's how we look at it. I tell the kids, 'At the end of the day, we're all going to play football. That's what we're here for. So whatever adversity we have to deal with, that's what we'll go with.' "

To help deal with the adversity, Bell said senior leadership will be more important than in the four previous years he spent with the team as an assistant coach.

"This senior staff is probably one of the best I've had," Bell said. "They're really good about responsibility. They take pride in having responsibility."

Two of those seniors, Emmanuel Bell and right tackle Dustin Laughlin, have had Division I schools such as Akron and Toledo show interest. The positive attention is a welcome change -- as is the start of two-a-day practices.

"We started camp at 8 a.m. and I had kids here at 6:45 a.m. ready to get in and be able to play football," Bell said. "It's a big thing for them."

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