Richmond Hill High School competes in sports against schools such as Bradwell Institute and Effingham County, Statesboro and Ware County high schools in Georgia’s enrollment-based region alignments.
However, some RHHS supporters say, the geographic and demographic similarities to the other schools in Region 3-AAAAA haven’t translated to the Richmond Hill football team having an even playing field in terms of facilities and resources.
“When you play other teams, you want to have apples to apples,” said Erin Cowan of the Richmond Hill Touchdown Club. “And right now, we don’t have the facilities and the training equipment to get our kids to be apples. It’s not fair to them.”
The Touchdown Club hosted a social last week to encourage members of the local business community to support the high school’s football program.
“We cannot do this without you,” first-year RHHS head coach Matt LeZotte said. “Anything that you can do and any ideas you have to try to build this thing, we are wide open. I’m very excited about the opportunity. I can’t wait.”
The Touchdown Club gave a presentation showing the disparities between Richmond Hill’s football facilities and those of other schools in Region 3-AAAAA. Among them:
• Glynn County Stadium — home to region foes Brunswick and Glynn Academy — and Ware County’s stadium each hold
12,000 fans. Wildcat Stadium’s capacity is 3,500, according to RHHS Athletic Director Mickey Bayens.
• Bradwell’s fieldhouse is more than twice the size of Richmond Hill’s.
• Ware County’s training room has three whirlpools, hot and cold hydroculators for pain management and an ultrasound machine.
“This is where we want to get — where the opposition is,” Touchdown Club President John Jeffery said. “It’s going to take a community effort.”
Cowan said she was “amazed” — and not in a good way — on a recent tour of Richmond Hill’s weight room.
“The barbells are bent; the stuffing is coming out of the side of the benches,” she said. “It was embarrassing to me.”
Cowan, who owns two businesses in Richmond Hill and has two sons at RHHS, encouraged fellow business leaders to donate to the Wildcat football program. The Touchdown Club presented several options for corporate sponsorships.
Businesses also are being encouraged to show the school’s colors around town. Gold signs with a black Wildcat logo and the words “proud Wildcat supporter” are available to any business to display in a window.
“It’s bothered me the last couple years that we don’t see a lot of the businesses in this town supporting the football program,” Cowan said. “As business leaders and as the stewards of this community, it’s our responsibility to make sure that our high school and our kids are getting the things that they deserve and they need.”
Richmond Hill High School’s enrollment has grown rapidly in recent years. Assistant football coach Patrick Means referred to the school district as “one of the fastest (growing) in the nation.”
RHHS athletic teams competed in Class AA as recently as 1999 before moving up to AAA the following year. An enrollment boom bumped Richmond Hill up to Class AAAA in 2010 and to AAAAA just two years later.
“We’ve grown so fast as a school district, it has just been hard to keep up,” LeZotte said.
Coach’s wish list
LeZotte accepted the Richmond Hill head coaching job in February following stints as head coach at Aquinas High School in Augusta and an assistant at Wayne County.
He said he was sold on RHHS after meeting with Bayens and Principal Debi McNeal and realizing they shared a goal “to build Richmond Hill into not only a state powerhouse but a national name brand.”
“When I heard their vision and where they wanted to go with the school,” LeZotte told the audience, “I said, ‘I’m on board. Just offer me the job, and let’s rock ’n’ roll.’”
LeZotte gave the Richmond Hill Touchdown Club a wish list that included a storage shed for equipment, an industrial washer and dryer to wash uniforms, and a $2,200 three-man blocking sled.
But the first item on the list was what stood out to Cowan. LeZotte asked for $800 to upgrade Richmond Hill’s account on Hudl.com, a site used by college scouts to see athletes perform and potentially offer scholarships.
“The first thing he asked for was something for the boys,” Cowan said. “It means a lot to me to have a coach that is all about your kids.”
Though Richmond Hill went 2-8 last season, LeZotte assured that better days are ahead for the Wildcats. His résumé includes two trips to the state playoffs with Aquinas and two with Wayne County, including a semifinal appearance in 2013.
“We are going to win, I promise you that,” LeZotte said. “It may not be tomorrow and it may not be next week, but we will win.”
The sponsorship opportunities for local businesses include advertisements during the live web-streaming of Richmond Hill home games.
All six of the Wildcats’ home games this season will be broadcast on the Internet at NFHSnetwork.com.
“That’s a big deal,” said Means, who runs Richmond Hill High School’s broadcast program. “You can watch us play from anywhere in the world.”
The online broadcasts are run entirely by RHHS students, giving them invaluable experience in the broadcasting field.
“Truly, if you want to invest in the (football) program, this is one of the best ways to do it,” Means said. “You’re not just helping the football program, but you’re also helping our broadcast program.”
While the Touchdown Club hopes for a high number of online viewers, more than anything, it wants a spirited atmosphere at the home homes. Packed houses at Wildcat Stadium will benefit not only the football team, but all RHHS athletic programs.
“A lot of people don’t realize that when you come through the gates at the football games, the $7 you pay goes to the athletic fund,” Cowan said. “And the athletic fund is what funds all the sports.”