Wildcat Football legacy honored
A light rain fell from the dark sky at Veterans Field. The 2003 Wildcat football alumni stood at center field proudly listening to Mark Beck announce their names over the PA system. Although the night was cold and wet, warm feelings of brotherhood and accomplishment filled the air.
These were the men responsible for 15 years of program building. These were the men responsible for paving the way for talented players such as Kyle Pettit, Ryan Stegman, Michael McNay, and Hunter Lea to take the gridiron under the lights in Menzie Bottoms on Friday nights. They weren’t concerned about their future impact, they just wanted to play football.
“I just always wanted to play football,” said former right guard Kevin Bonapfel. “I was thrilled to death when they announced when they said we were getting a team. We put the pads on and started hitting each other. We had no idea how to play, no idea what was going on.”
Former Head Coach Tim Carver raved about the attitudes of his former players. Carver confirmed this sentiment in a letter to the community read aloud over the PA system during half time.
“These guys bought into it from day one,” said Carver. “We got practice tomorrow at 8 o’clock, they were just that excited about having it. If we didn’t have a game on Friday night those first two years, we’d have practice at 8 o’clock on Saturday morning. I would say, “Alright, let’s wake up the sleepy town of Falmouth.” The Wildcats went 3-5 in varsity action during their first season. Their first win came against Powell County High School 33-20 on September 12, 2003. That year the Wildcats collected two more victories against Henry County and Landmark Christian.
Initially school administrators thought it would be a better idea to field only a JV team. There was going to be a five-year plan to establish a competent varsity program. Carver fought against this.
Carver believed those kids should be entitled to play varsity football since they wanted to sacrifice their own free time in order to start the program. Former school administrator Gary Dearborn and former athletic director Tom Woofter met with Carver and discussed the logistics of beginning the program.
Their first game in program history came against now defunct Whitesburg High School which eventually consolidated into Letcher
County High School. The Wildcats lost 39-0, the result was expected for such a new program. Still the players rallied around each other and were able to improve each game.
“All of the games were fun when we were winning,” said Bonapfel. “The first [JV] game was fun against Grant County. Bryan scored a touchdown and I went to give him a high-five and he said, “Act like you’ve been here before.” I’m like, I don’t know how, I actually have never been here before.”
Fifteen seasons later, the Wildcat football program is still going strong. Carver has moved on to other coaching opportunities. The players are all grown and have their respective lives and families. As they stood at center field with the rain pelting them in the face, they remembered the first time they all laced up their cleats and took the field under the lights together for the first time in Menzie Bottoms. The seeds they planted have continued to grow for 15 years.