“If you build it, they will come.” – Field of Dreams, 1989
Before long, you’ll be able to watch football five days out of the week. Every year brings renewed excitement, with most of us taking the offseason to justify why our team will come back stronger than ever next season. New faces come in and some familiar faces stick around. Maybe the coach decides to change direction. Other teams get better. There are an infinite amount of variables, enhancing our excitement even more. We all know that in sports, anything can happen. We see the impossible year in and year out. However, next season is here, and for some in Collierville, this season is different than ever before.
In one sense, the new high school stadium will provide the Dragons their first ever “home” football game. The Herman Osteen Field, behind Collierville Elementary, has been their “home” field since 1966. At this year’s Dragon Day, it was easy to see the sense of nostalgia washing over everyone – players, coaches, and families. Parents sat in the stands watching their kids, remembering the moments they had a generation ago, running through the same tunnel, or lifting pom-poms and cheering for their own classmates. Little kids watched as their older siblings run onto the field, ready to carry on their family’s legacy. This years’ Dragon Day was more nostalgic than years’ past; you could tell the transition was on everyone’s minds.
Sometimes change is a little sad, but I think most Dragons, especially former students, know that not only is this change good, but also long overdue. You see, the Collierville Dragons have the passion – seen at games like against Wilson Central, in Nashville, where the Dragons showed up with more fans than the home team. Dragons’ games are like College Gameday. That’s the closest thing I know to compare it; from the faculty tailgate in the end zone, the CHS grillers, and the Collierville Crazies – the passion is evident. It oozes out of every group involved, which, by the way, is a lot of different people, some working behind-the-scenes. And this year, the main stage has changed for the Friday night production.
If anyone knows this season is different, it’s Dragon’s football coach, Ron O’Neill. When Coach O’Neill was originally approached about the new school and its athletic facilities, he was asked to provide his ‘dream’ list: “The first thing that came to mind, was a 10k stadium capacity and a turf field. Those were the things I wanted to see the most.” We now know that the stadium will hold 5,000 – 3k for the home team and 2k for the away team. For reference, Coach O’Neill says that Herman Osteen Field, where they’ve been playing all these years, probably seats around 2,300. The new stadium didn’t quite hit Coach’s mark of 10k, but it will hold more than double the amount of fans than the old stadium. In sports, bigger is always better. As far as the turf field, that was one mark they were able to hit – and let me tell you, this turf field rivals the Liberty Bowl. Coach O’Neill knew that if they were going to do it big, they had to do it right: “I knew that for this, we needed to take a page out of Texas. I made three trips to Texas, looking at stadiums. I wanted something that no one else around here had, even the private schools. We got it.” The indoor practice facility is turf too, which all sports will be able to use. Coach is right, there really aren’t many schools around that can rival Collierville’s new athletic facilities. He knows this is a blessing, but that it won’t be easy: “There’s going to be plenty of distractions. I know the players will be looking up to see themselves on the jumbotron. We’ve been discussing it and we also have a very loud playlist that we’ve been practicing to in order for the players to get used to the noise.” The first game at the new stadium is Friday, September 7th against Germantown High School. Since they are transitioning to the new stadium during season, the Dragons will have to adjust to turf, quickly. Collierville vs. Germantown holds a traditional type of rivalry and the Dragons are hoping to make a statement their first game at the new stadium. Germantown won last year, with Collierville winning the year before. There’s no doubt that the Germantown players will be a little shell-shocked by the facilities that Friday night. “I’m hoping so,” says Coach O’Neill, with a wink. It will be different than any Collierville game they’ve ever played.
“I knew that for this, we needed to take a page out of Texas. I made three trips to Texas, looking at stadiums. I wanted something that no one else around here had, even the private schools. We got it.” – Coach O’Neill, Dragons Football
The Cheer and Pom squad are two more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that turns into Friday night. Cheer Sponsor and School Counselor, Kristy Krotzer, thinks the new facilities will help highlight the school’s programs in a big way: “Our programs and staff are top notch. The athletes work hard in the classroom and on the field. Now that our facilities have caught up to where we are, it will showcase what we’ve known all along.” The Cheer and Pom squads have grown in numbers over the last couple years, with a total of 70 students this season between both squads. It was evident at Dragon Day that they are just as excited about the new season as the football squad, who will have quite the section to cheer them on.
“Our programs and staff are top notch. The athletes work hard in the classroom and on the field. Now that our facilities have caught up to where we are, it will showcase what we’ve known all along.” – Kristy Krotzer, Cheer Sponsor and School Counselor
The last remaining piece of Friday night is also better than they’ve ever been before. Fresh off his first year as Collierville Director of Bands, Mr. Barnes has his hands full with over two hundred students in the band program. “The band students are an amazing group of kids and have really turned into a family,” says Barnes. “They know that Friday night is the culmination of everything they’ve worked so hard for and they want Friday night to be as big as it can be.” Barnes was appointed Band Director last year and moved here from South Carolina, bringing Mr. Richardson with him as Associate Director of Bands. They both bring in national level experience, which is one reason why the Collierville Band has seen so much growth recently. Mr. Barnes says the new facilities will make a big difference, especially for the band: “Indoor facilities can make or break a band program. We now have two band rooms, with a total of 9,700 square feet, which allows us to teach two band classes at the same time. We have the biggest band facilities of anywhere up to 100 miles of here.”
“The Collierville [Dragons] Band, as far as competing goes (especially on the national stage), will be a cut above the rest.” – Mr. Richardson, Associate Director of Bands
They also have an outdoor band practice field. Not only is the band gearing up for football season, but they are also preparing for the Marching Band tournament they are hosting at the new campus, The Tournament of Champions. It will be a one of a kind tournament, with a panel of world class judges from all over – judges that have competed in nationally acclaimed bands themselves. As Tennessee doesn’t have a state circuit like most states do, most bands around here just compete locally. Mr. Richardson, Associate Director of Bands, says, “The Collierville Band, as far as competing goes (especially on the national stage), will be a cut above the rest.” People know it to; Richardson says that they are getting calls from all over about the band and people are choosing to send their kids to Collierville Public Schools, because of the band program. The rest of the school has begun to notice a difference, as well. “Coach O’Neill has been very supportive of the band and we couldn’t be happier to have him back,” says Barnes. The first day that Coach O’Neill came back to school last year from battling cancer, the band gathered outside his classroom and played the fight song. The Dragons really have come together as a family and support each other as much as they can.
On Friday, August 31st, the Collierville Dragons will play their last game at Herman Osteen Field, behind the elementary school. The Alumni Association will be there to say their last goodbyes, as the new athletic facilities will finally be ready for the transition. The next week, on September 7th, they will play their first “home” game against Germantown at their new home. The state-of-the-art campus couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Dragon passion is higher than ever before. All the pieces are here, and they couldn’t be more excited. It will be a challenging season, and I’m sure the students are feeling the pressure. They know that this was all built for them, and that now it’s their time to shine. They’re ready, and I have no doubt that they will put on a show for us come Friday nights.
By Austin Essary
Photos by MS BRAND CO. & RED BARDES