It’s a shame. A high school with so much football tradition has completely fallen off the map.

The numbers don’t lie.

In this decade, Hanceville High has been one of the most unsuccessful prep football programs in this state. The Bulldogs have gone 23-70 since the millennium.

That’s the second-worst record in Class 3A since the turn of the century. At 17-73, only West Limestone has experienced less success in that classification.

Sadly, 11 of Hanceville’s 23 wins came before the 2002 season — before former head coach Mark Smothers resigned.

That gives Hanceville a 12-59 record in the post-Smothers era, which is the fewest wins in Class 3A during that period.

Hanceville has had five head coaches in the post-Smothers era and the program has experienced four coaching changes in the last four years — the most turnover in Cullman County.

Could that be why Hanceville has gone 4-36 during the previous four seasons?

Well, it hasn’t helped. And the problem recently got a lot worse.

Because of statewide proration and lack of local funds, the Cullman County Board of Education was forced to cut 45 teachers earlier this month.

Of those teachers, nine were coaches — including Hanceville interim head football coach Danny Miller and assistant football coach Ben Smith.

Those cuts basically wiped out Hanceville’s football staff, leaving a huge question mark hanging over a program that was already in disarray.

So who should take the blame for this predicament? Where does Hanceville’s football program go from here?

Some believe the Cullman County Commission should shoulder the responsibility for the board of education’s financial woes and pass a countywide 1/2-cent sales tax to bail the school system out.

Yes, funds generated by a 1/2-cent sales tax would help solve the coaching problems at Hanceville. And more importantly, the new tax would strengthen the entire school system — giving the CCBOE enough money to hire more teachers and create new academic programs.

But can the problems within Hanceville’s football program really be blamed on the county commission?

While I would support a 1/2-cent sales tax — I’m in favor of anything that helps education — I’m not sure the problems with Hanceville’s football program stem from lack of funds.

The problems within Hanceville’s football program run much deeper than that. These struggles started well before a 1/2-cent sales tax was ever discussed.

Other school systems may have more local funding — this isn’t a secret — but most of the schools in Cullman County have still been able to field competitive athletic programs.

Take Good Hope for example.

Good Hope has one of the most well-run athletic departments in Cullman County.

There has been very little turnover in the coaching ranks at Good Hope in the last 10 years. The school also fields perennial playoff contenders in every sport.

Is that a coincidence? Probably not.

History tells us the schools that are successful in athletics are usually the ones with the most stability — little change within in the athletic department. Programs plagued with constant change typically don’t fare as well.

Good Hope isn’t the only school that falls under the CCBOE’s umbrella that’s been able sustain stability and success during the last decade.

Cullman County’s smallest school, Cold Springs, has won more state titles than any other local school since 1999. The Eagles also have stability within the coaching ranks.

In the past three years, Fairview has made huge strides in its athletic department — especially in football.

Before 2007, Fairview’s football program was in shambles. But after a 1-9 season three years ago, people close to the program said enough was enough.

Changes were made. George Redding was hired as Fairview’s head football coach, and he was given a dedicated group of assistants — most of them coach multiple sports.

Everything that’s followed has been good for Fairview. The Aggies are now playoff contenders in every sport and school spirit is at a new high.

Perhaps Hanceville needs to follow Fairview’s lead.

The Times left several messages for Hanceville principal Bob Burgess last week, but no phone calls were returned … until Thursday.

That’s when a Hanceville administrator, assistant principal Kerry Henderson, left a message on The Times’ news editor’s voicemail.

“This is Kerry Henderson at Hancevillle High School,” Henderson said in the message that was left just after 7 a.m. “You can tell Justin Graves that he’s not allowed on Hanceville High School’s campus anymore … He’s not welcome around here anymore.”

Guess Henderson — a former Hanceville football coach that went 9-23 from ’04-’06 — doesn’t want to answer any questions about the Bulldogs’ future, either.

Unfortunately, The Times has lots of questions for Henderson. After all, he’s the athletic director, which means he plays a vital role in the hiring and managing of football coaches.

The Times would like to know what direction Hanceville’s football program is headed. Does the administration have a plan, and will that plan create stability within the football program?

Hanceville’s student athletes deserve that. The football players deserve the same type of stability the other county schools have.

Most people close to Hanceville football thought Miller — the interim coach who took over when Daryl Burnham resigned at midseason last fall — was the one person who could bring Hanceville football out of this funk.

Miller had a plan. It involved a strong offseason program — something that was lacking at Hanceville before the summer of 2008 — and a lot of hard work.

He believed in Hanceville’s student athletes, and they believed in him. They were buying into his philosophy.

And with the amount of talent walking the hallways at Hanceville, it was just a matter of time before the Bulldogs became competitive again.

But Miller was let go, as was his staff. And even if one of those coaches are rehired later this summer, the odds that all of them will come back is unlikely.

The football players at Hanceville deserve better than that. It’s unfair that these kids have experienced more coaching changes than any other school in the county, and it’s sad that they’ve only experienced one win in the last two years.

Something has to be done at Hanceville … better decisions have to be made. This has to happen, at least for the kids’ sake.

‰ Justin Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 257 or by e-mail at jgraves@cullmantimes.com.

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