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Diversity of Ridge Football Coaching Staff ‘One of Team’s Greatest Assets’

Spend just one practice with the football coaching staff at Ridge Junior School and you’ll see that they share a deep love and respect for their players. But at first glance, their commonalities end there. And despite their medley of backgrounds, Ridge Athletic Director Ken Jones said it was all very intentional - and it’s working. 

“The reason I wanted this particular group of coaches is because they all bring different life experiences to the table,” Jones said. “Some are educators, some are coaches and some are neither or both. But together, they give our kids exactly what they need.” 

The new coaching staff is made up of just three current teachers ranging in experience of just four to 10 years: eighth grade Head Coach Matt Abshear; Ridge math teacher and Assistant Coach Allison Wicher; and Plains math teacher and Assistant Coach Andrew Wuest, also a former Ridge student. Now in his sixth year coaching either Ridge or Plains, Abshear is the only one in this trio with any former coaching experience and Wicher is the team’s first-ever female coach. 

Additionally, first year Assistant Coach Andrew Maynard is a veteran strength and conditioning coach up through the professional level and a semi-professional rugby player. He is also a substitute teacher at Ridge who recently earned the credentials to become an intervention specialist. 

The team also includes seventh grade Head Coach Noah Foltyn, a Lakota East graduate currently in college to become a teacher and doubling as Ridge’s boys basketball coach. Assistant Coach David Walcott, who attended both Ridge and Lakota West High School, is a very recent graduate of Ball State University and brings his experience from playing football at the collegiate level. Rounding out the team is Russ Turner, a retired community member who has volunteered his time and expertise with both the Ridge and Plains football teams for 15 years. 

“The diversity of our coaching staff has become one of our greatest assets,” Abshear said. “Our players see that some of us are young or old, white or black, male or female, educators or not, and yet all of us love and care about each one of them. Despite those kinds of differences, we’re alike in a lot of ways. That’s one of the greatest lessons of all we can teach them.” 

Obviously, neither coaching experience nor technical skills were a requirement for their various titles - but between the seven of them, they seem to hit all marks for a solid and successful coaching staff. For starters, the seventh and eighth grade teams hold a 3-1-1 and 3-2 record so far, respectively.

“We combine as a team really nicely and they’re a big reason for it,” said Ridge eighth-grader Eli Hodge, noting that they lean on each of them for different things. “They keep us all together and in check and we all stick up for each other, on and off the field.” 

As the season unfolds, each coach is finding their niche and defining their role, but they all share a passion for building relationships with their student-athletes. In fact, that is the sole reason Wuest accepted the role. The founder of Ridge’s “Boys Club” before getting moved to Plains Junior this year, he enjoys filling the exact same role he did as that group’s advisor. 

“I don’t know much about the X’s and O’s of football, but I know how to talk about life with them and encourage them to be the best versions of themselves,” said Wuest, who was offered the same opportunity at Plains, but had to decline. Why? “I really just grew a love for these kids and realized I had a lot left in my tank to give them,” he said. 

“Football is great and all. Winning games is great too,” Wuest reflected, “but seeing their growth as young men is even more rewarding.”

Hodge and his teammates recognize and appreciate Wuest’s allegiance, too. “Even though he had to go to Plains, him coming back to spend time with us shows that he loves our players.” 

Wicher, who also comes with zero coaching experience and a short stint playing for Cincinnati Sizzle, a division of the Women’s Football Alliance, is happy to fill her role as the “team mom”. Mostly assisting with the offensive line, she says she has learned a lot about the game and coaching from her colleagues. In spite of her inexperience, the team has given her nothing but respect since she started. In fact, if anything, it has strengthened her student-teacher relationships, a benefit she sees carrying over into her classroom. 

“I really do enjoy it and the thrill I get from watching them compete is indescribable,” Wicher said. “To see them succeed, fail and grow on the football field is just a different experience than in the classroom.” 

“It’s safe to say that I’m probably getting more out of it than they are,” she continued. 

Jones said Wicher is a welcome addition for many reasons, but especially to provide some representation for their single female player. In fact, over the last eight years, four different girls have passed through Ridge’s football team. “For the girls in our building to see her stepping up as a leader in a non-traditional role goes a long way,” Jones said.

Seventh-grader Jibril Hartford said that his coaches teach them a lot about the benefits of being a team - likely just one of the lessons coming from a team of people that lead by example. 

“We’ve all found our niche, what we do and what we represent, and it’s been a really cool thing to be a part of,” said Abshear.
 

  • Athletics