A Conversation with Dr. Grant Nesbit, Director of Athletics & Assistant Director of Operations:
Tell us about Lawrence at Lucas and what you hope to accomplish:
The LC-LN game is always a very special night for our students and our community. Our thought was - Let’s make it even more special. Let’s get this event on the state’s biggest stage and make it an extraordinary night for our young people. For some of those performers and players, this will be the most memorable night of their high school years. To our knowledge, no single school district has ever rented out the stadium for a night where it is just their community celebrating and competing. We just thought this was such a unique opportunity.
Can you provide some insights on the football stadium renovations at both Lawrence North and Lawrence Central?
Both high schools are undergoing major outdoor renovations as part of our district’s Blue Ribbon Facility Plan. At both campuses we are constructing buildings just beyond the football endzones that will serve our sports teams, marching band, and the many large events that we regularly host. The buildings will supply locker rooms, meeting rooms, a training room, and much needed storage space. We anticipate those buildings to be done by spring break. What will be even more noticeable is that following this football season, we will begin tearing down the concrete grandstands. Those old structures served us well, but they are long past-due to come down. We’ll be replacing them with aluminum bleachers and erecting a press box at each school. In addition, we’re putting up new concession and restroom buildings that will service the stadium and other areas of the outdoor campuses. We are grateful to our partners at Ed Martin Automotive for a $500,000 donation to our programming, which will secure naming rights for both new stadiums for the next five years.
How important is football success at the two schools?
There is an old saying in the coaching ranks, “Our scores are in the paper every Saturday morning.” Right or wrong, the high profile sports teams are what most people think of when you say a school’s name. Obviously, you want that name to bring an image of excellence.
What’s more, there’s no doubt that football sets the tone for a high school every fall. High school principals will tell you that their building climate is often set by the success or lack of success of the football team. The Monday morning following a big win has a different feel and it affects the whole school. When a state championship run is going on, there’s just another level of excitement for the entire school community to rally around.
One of your biggest challenges is that you are in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference. How difficult of a challenge is it for North and Central to compete in the league that features Carmel, Center Grove, Ben Davis and Warren Central?
Football is certainly a numbers game; typically the more potential student-athletes you have, the more success you’ll have. Lawrence Central and Lawrence North are the smallest schools in the conference. There’s no doubt, that does make the task of winning year-in and year-out in the MIC a unique opportunity, but that’s exactly what we want. Our goal of the regular season is to prepare for the state tournament series. On any given year, it’s likely that most, if not every, school you see in the post-season will be a MIC school. We could compete in a smaller conference and go undefeated and get knocked out the first round of Sectionals every year, but that’s not the goal. The goal is the 6A State Championship. We want to teach our young people to strive for the top.
There have been major changes in the youth football programs in Lawrence. Can you tell us about those changes and how you hope this will provide positive impact for the Lawrence teams?
Four years ago we had three different football youth groups in Lawrence and it wasn’t quite working. We invited the heads of the leagues to my office, along with the City of Lawrence parks board director, and we hashed out a plan to dissolve the leagues and have a single, strong league for the community. Now we have the Lawrence Township Football League (LTFL), and you’ll see those teams playing at the parks and on the high school turf fields. Those same kids will be playing here tonight at Lucas Oil Stadium – that’s such a unique opportunity for our community.
What are some of the changes that have developed at Belzer, Fall Creek, North and Central since the athletic department was realigned?
The athletic departments really became aligned in 2010 when Craig Middle School closed. When that happened, we aligned Belzer completely with Lawrence Central and Fall Creek Valley with Lawrence North. We saw a drastic, positive difference in the high school coaches becoming involved with their feeder middle school. Dr. Shawn Smith, our superintendent, has pushed the athletic departments further with the development of a district director of athletics to ensure that the students are served from kindergarten through graduation and that the school athletic directors have all the resources they need to achieve at the highest level.
How do you see high school football evolving in Indiana. We now have six classes, including 32 teams in 6A. Do you see any future changes?
There was a lot of consternation over the last several years, particular with the private schools and the size disparity in the 4A and 5A levels. The development of 6A, coupled with the success factor, has stabilized things for a while. Several conferences realigned, including the MIC when we welcomed Lawrence Central and Pike, and I think things are going to hold for a while. The biggest changes we will see will involve safety precautions, just as we are seeing at the professional and collegiate levels.
If you had a magic wand, what would you like to see happen to the MIC in the future?
The MIC just does so well across the board, from athletics to academics, that is hard to think of things we could be doing differently. I suppose if we really wanted to get creative, if we ever had the opportunity to have a mega-conference, with 14-16 schools, it could be a really unique set-up for football. You could have two divisions that lead up to the final week or two of the season, then pair the teams up based on record for a week or two of conference playoffs, naming an outright champion, third and fourth place, and so on. We could change up the schedule every two to four years with cross-divisional games and keep your rivalry games on the schedule every year.