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Banner County fields first football team in five years

Banner County fields first football team in five years

Banner County fields first football team in five years

A young fan watches the Banner County Wildcats from the tailgate of the family's truck on Thursday, Sept. 3 in Harrisburg.

Exiting off Highway 71 toward Harrisburg, the bank of lights is hard to miss off in the distance.

It’s only 7 p.m., but the lights are already lit signaling gametime for the Banner County Wildcats — their first in five years.

Harrisburg didn’t field a team for four years because dwindling interest and small class sizes left the school without enough players to field a team. For the past two years, Banner County has co-oped with Leyton to give anybody who wanted to a chance to play football.

This year, a larger freshman class gave Banner County, who plays six-man football, the hope they needed. They had seven students interested in playing, just enough to form its own football team,

“We had four incoming freshman, and we had three players co-op with Leyton last year, so four plus three equals seven,” coach Tod Wenger said. “We decided that we were going to give it a shot because we got to start somewhere.”

Of the three players who co-oped with Leyton, junior Alex Rundell saw some meaningful playing time and the sophomores — Kelton Conn and Noah Yetter — played a few downs for the Warriors.

“They at least got a little feel for the game,” Wenger said. “We have a little veteran leadership, if you will.”

To go with that veteran leadership are freshman Wyatt Reichenberg, Nathan Clement, Adam Knaub and Jacob Parsons.

“It’s going to be a long journey. It’s going to be an interesting journey, but one we are all looking forward to,” Wenger said.

With seven players on the roster, Wenger said they have to work extra hard to keep the players healthy.

“We have to really play our cards right. We can’t afford to lose anybody. Everybody is vital to the team. It’s very much a chess match, but it’s one we enjoy,” Wenger said.

Banner County dropped its first contest in five years 70-0 to Minatare, but the final outcome and stats didn’t matter much. Banner County once again had its own team.

“(The kids) were pretty excited. they weren’t too excited about the three weeks of practice,” Wenger said. “It’s a good feeling to know these boys want to play football.”

Wenger said the team came together pretty quickly. There wasn’t much time for planning.

“We probably had about three weeks notice, and that’s maybe being gracious,” he said. “We had a pretty good feeling it was going to happen. We were kind of questionable on some things, but I’m glad to see that it came together for us.”

Wenger said he hopes this will help get the younger kids interested in playing once they reach high school.

“I hope this generates lots of interest with a lot of kids. We have a couple classes in our junior high that look really promising. Hopefully, it gets those guys interested and maybe we can put a big team out on the field.”

The team has had overwhelming support from the community, Wenger said.

“Everybody in this county has been looking forward to this for a long time, and they’re going to back these boys all the way through,” he said. “It’s an excellent thing for the county and an excellent thing for the school. They’re going to get their name out there again.”

The fans showed up for opening night to watch their team kickoff for the first time in years. The football field is surrounded by a lot of open field, except for a small bleacher on the east side with a press box, and a smaller bleacher on the west side. There were fans in both stands, standing along the side of the field several watching from the comfort of their vehicles or the back of their pickups.

Wenger said the community has been supportive of the team since they decided to field one this season.

“It’s been about five years since we last time had a team,” he said. “I think it is great for this county. It gives them something to look forward to on Friday night.”

Wenger said the team has been a nice distraction for the community through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s very important out here in this rural community. It give everybody something to do. It brings everybody together,” Wenger said.

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Jeff Van Patten is the sports editor of the Star-Herald. Jeff can be reached by calling 308-632-9050 or emailing jeff.vanpatten@starherald.com.

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