Pirates turning the ship around
By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
Times have been tough for Belton football over the last few seasons. Since a run to the Class 5 state championship game in 2007, the Pirates have struggled to find more than three wins in any one season.
Last year Belton finished at 4-7 with a win in the first round of the district tournament and this season could be the year the Pirates take another big step forward.
Turning around a program that has struggled for almost a decade was no easy task. In 2013 Todd Vaughn was hired and the process began. Vaughn came over from a very successful program in Farmington, Mo. and he found a Class 5 program that was having a hard time finding bodies to play, let alone wins on the field.
The first thing Vaughn did was try to change the culture.
“I think changing the environment (was important),” Vaughn said. “You have to have high expectations for kids and I think about 90 percent of the time they will meet those expectations, but you have to do it in a manner that you are respectful to them and they know that you care about them.”
The commitment to winning was there but also discipline and communication was there as well. Those factors helped set the stage for more success.
“We tell our kids, 'I believe in tough love,'" Vaughn said. “I believe in love. We are going to love our kids up, but we are going to have high expectations for them and we are going to hold them accountable. They know anytime we do that it’s because we care about them, not because we don’t like them.
“It’s just the mindset on how you treat kids. When you do that and go about your business the right way, the word spreads and kids talk about what you do. We have fun; we do some fun stuff with our kids.”
When you talk to the players you get a buy-in that is easily understood. The Pirates have taken ownership along with the coaches and have really bonded as a group.
“We’ve developed this family attitude,” senior offensive lineman Charles Carter said. “We come together and do things. Not just on the field because obviously every team does that on the field. Off the field we do things together. We get together all the time, eat together, we do everything as a family.”
The numbers for the program were in the high 30s so finding some bodies who wanted to compete was job No. 1. Now the program has over 70 out and the difference is noticeable. That change is evident when you talk to the players. There is a lot of enthusiasm on the sidelines and camaraderie off the field as well.
Carter said that enthusiasm has brought more players to the program.
“Seeing us have fun and we are doing great things together,” Carter said. “This camaraderie thing--everybody wants to be a part of it and that’s awesome. These numbers growing--that’s huge for us and it’s awesome to see.
Carter said seeing the program grow has meant a lot to him.
“It’s huge for me because I’ve been a part of this program since my freshman year. To see us grow and get better as a program, I know I’m going to be gone soon, but it’s not just about me. We are setting up stepping stones for people coming up behind us and we are doing great things for them.”
The community is behind the program and that is evident when you arrive at a game. The Pirates play in a new stadium that opened in 2011 with on-site lockers and a workout area. The stadium hosted the 2011 Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association All-Star game and is one of the better facilities in the Metro.
“I knew Belton had potential, I really did,” Vaughn said. “I didn’t know exactly what was going on but I knew there was potential. Any time you have a school district and a community that makes that type of commitment facility wise, you know there is something there.
“We have a good superintendent. He understands how athletics can be a piece of the puzzle and that’s important. I think we might be the only school district in the state of Missouri that has its own strength and conditioning coordinator. That’s all he does and he is really good at what he does. When you see that type of commitment, you know there is something there. You just have to build it. It was there; it just takes a while.”
That level of pride is evident when you talk to a player like Carter who has been a part of the program for four years.
“We are blessed with what in my opinion is one of the best high school facilities in the state of Missouri,” Carter said. “It’s huge going on to the field. That Pirate Pride principle we’ve got going on--it’s huge. It’s awesome for us.”
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