Single A school, 6A support

Oliver Springs High School football is the pulse of its community — and that pulse is strong

  • Oliver Springs Head Coach Larry Green, an OSHS alumnus, gives instructions to Bobcat freshman Kadain McCoy during a recent game. - Dwayne Wilder

  • Oliver Springs running back Jacob Hileman (4) gets a key block from Brady Jackson (54) during the recent game against visiting Kingston. - Dwayne Wilder

Many small towns and communities across Tennessee and the rest of the South are synonymous with their local high school football teams.

Oliver Springs is no different. One could even argue that Oliver Springs is the epitome of what Single A high school football means to a small community.

“We’ve got great community support,” said Bobcats Head Coach Larry Green.

“Most of the local merchants always buy signs on the fence to support the team, and the local churches feed the team before every game each Friday. We have a pretty good crowd on Friday nights. We’re a small town and a lot of people still go to the ballgames. And we appreciate them.”

Green, along with several faculty members at the high school, are Oliver Springs alumni. They understand the tradition because they are part of it.

Green noted that the relationship between a high school football program and a small community is special

Large high schools, or even most private schools, will never enjoy such a special bond with the community, he said.

Local businessman James Brummett is also a graduate of Oliver Springs and a longtime supporter of the school and its athletic programs.

He said the community has always supported the program, even in the lean years. It’s been a constant for the program.

“Just drive by the field and look at it on a normal Friday night and our numbers will be up there with a lot of bigger schools,” Brummett said, with no small amount of pride.

“It’s up and down, like any sports program, but you have kids grow up and go to college, go to work or to the military. Those ups and downs are what we want. We want to prepare them for what they will face.”

Brummett added that the football program in particular helps prepare young men for life after high school football.

He credits Green for his work with the team.

“He’s a good man and he really takes the kids to heart,” Brummett said. “He tries to do what’s best for the kids. We’re [the community] a united front. We’re with the coach and want what’s good for the kids.”

The bond that football holds with the community has not gone unrewarded in recent years.

The Bobcats have made the playoffs for the past four years, and made it all the way to the quarterfinals of the playoffs in 2019 and the COVID-marred 2020 season.

It’s been a remarkable run for Green and the Bobcats.

In its history, Oliver Springs has only made the quarterfinals six times.

This season has been anything but smooth sailing for Oliver Springs. The Bobcats have faced more than their share of challenges. They dropped their first two games to Rockwood (41-8) and Kingston (34-0). And that’s just what the program has faced on the field.

The ongoing pandemic has already cost the Bobcats two games this season, with no games against non-region opponents Gordonsville and Oneida.

With a community the size of Oliver Springs, enrollment changes from year to year. Sometimes those numbers go up and sometimes they go down.

With a drop in enrollment, the pool of student athletes also dips. This year, the Bobcats fielded a team of fewer than 30 players.

“We started out with 28 on our roster, then we had two ACLs [injuries] and those two guys are out for the season, so we’re down to 26 players total,” Green said.

Green said he ordinarily has 35 to 40 players on the the roster. Last Thursday, the team had 19 players dressed for practice.

“It’s taking a lot of getting used to, not having the depth we had in the past,” he said. “Our school is down to about 260 kids, so we are a true 1A school.”

When Green took over the program in 2015, Oliver Springs was a 2A school and was through the 2016 season.

“We were the smallest football-playing 2A school in the state,” he said. “We welcomed that switch to 1A.”

Even with the dip in roster numbers and the slow start to the regular season, community support has not diminished.

“Our first two games were at home and against two Roane County teams,” Green said. “We had good crowds. We probably had a bigger crowd for Kingston because they’re a bigger school.”

Oliver Springs is scheduled to go to Greenback to open region play this Friday, but Greenback’s game with Webb was canceled last Friday due to COVID, so the status of that game is up in the air.

The Bobcats do not have another home game until Oct. 1, when they host region and Roane County rival Harriman.

Oliver Springs has a bye week scheduled for Sept. 24, and will close out the season with five consecutive region games.

Green is hopeful the Bobcats will right the ship and find their way into the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

And even should they falter, there’s a community who will support them regardless of the end result.

Community, family and football.

It’s special.