Author: Nick Bruesewitz
On Friday evening, underneath the setting sun, about 40 young men from the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) came together for one common goal: football.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the MMSD cancelled the football seasons for Madison West, East, La Follette and Memorial High Schools, resulting in many disappointed players. Brad Murphy, the head coach of the Madison West football team felt that this decision was coming, so he had a plan. He organized Madison West Club football and offered Madison upperclassmen a chance to play football this spring. Students from all four MMSD schools were free to join the team and seniors were given their last chance at playing high school football. Coach Murphy said that creating and finalizing the team didn’t just happen overnight.
“I would say it was official maybe about three months ago. But it’s been up to five or six months, as far as when I was telling my kids, [that] we were going to make sure you guys had a senior football season,” Murphy said.
It took some time to get clearance from the WIAA but once they had it, they knew a season was possible and going to happen. With the team insured, parents can feel comfortable allowing their boys to play as well as other schools being willing to play them. A team isn’t a team without gear and so a GoFundMe was set up to begin fundraising.
“It’s been just tremendous to see the support we’ve been getting around Madison. I think a lot of people understand that our kids should be afforded the right to play football like all the other teams in Dane County and it’s great to see the support,” coach Murphy expressed.
Football is an expensive sport to play. Just a helmet and shoulder pads can cost around $400. In the first 48 hours of the team’s GoFundMe, the team received over $6800 in donations. Additionally, multiple parents stepped forward to sponsor another player in need. The Army National Guard has also committed to buying the entire team new jerseys. It has truly been a community effort getting this team off the ground and that has not gone unnoticed.
Brad Murphy grew up playing football and has been coaching for 16 years. He understands the importance of the game to the kids.
“Our school district hasn’t exactly afforded our kids the right to be able to play all these different sports. The basketball kids in the winter weren’t afforded that right. As soon as I knew that happened, I knew for sure we weren’t going to have our spring season and it’s really sad because we have a lot of at-risk kids in our program,” Murphy said. “These kids need it, they really, really do.”
For high school students, team sports like football can create lifelong memories and friendships. The bond between teammates and the game lasts forever. The athletes have spent many years playing football and some plan on playing after high school.
“Football has always been part of my life. Not having a season really hurt when it came to recruiting,” Madison West junior Michael Horvath said.
“It’s everything to me. Since I was a toddler, I’ve been playing football. It’s so hard to see every other school in the area being able to play but not us,” West senior William Gutknecht responded. Gutknecht will go on to play football collegiately at Knox College.
After what was an excruciating year, football seemed to offer a return to normalcy this year for the athletes. After the 2020 school year ended abruptly for students, players were still looking forward to their respective sports seasons. What was considered to be a light at the end of the tunnel for many high school athletes, didn’t happen. Coach Murphy decided to step up.
Being able to play their favorite sport is important to many high school student-athletes. Madison West senior Tyshawn Mitchell and La Follette senior Joelvon Hatchett expressed gratitude for Coach Murphy’s club team.
“I love it, I love playing the game. It was heartbreaking, I almost cried. It’s a part of my life and having it taken away made me feel some sort of way. This opportunity means a lot to me because most of the Madison schools are closed, so we can’t play other schools like others,” Tyshawn Mitchell said.
“This is like my family. I’m loving it. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play football my senior year,” Joelvon Hatchett agreed.
For many others, football is just an opportunity to get out and have some fun. Both senior Josh Dearlove of Madison West and junior Dawon Gamble of Madison East offered insight to the sports significance to them.
“Football hasn’t been part of my life for very long, but I love it,” Dearlove said.
Dawson Gamble laughed off some of his friends’ responses saying, “I just play it for fun, I ain’t going to lie.”
It has been said that coach Murphy may lose his job with Madison West because of his organization of the club team after the school decided to not have a season. Murphy felt that this team was more important than his job. When interviewed, he preferred that conversation remained around the players as he continued to say the focus is on getting the students the season they deserved. When it comes to the feelings of the athletes in regards to their coach, each and every one of them interviewed expressed their respect and appreciation for what he has done for them. Some of the athletes have known him for years and described him as “one of the boys.”
Murphy hopes that the club team is only short-lived though as he does not want to pull students from their school programs in coming years.
“You’re playing with your best friends at your school and you’re also playing with your peers that you’ve grown up with in that school district for many years,” coach Murphy said. “I think that’s a pretty special experience and that’s something that I wouldn’t ever want to see them taken away from.”
Despite limited resources and many obstacles, the Madison West Club Football team allows the area’s high school football players a chance to play the game they love, thanks to the generous donations from community supporters.