ANACONDA — Less than two years on from discussions of a potential co-op with Butte Central, Anaconda’s football program has new energy.
Despite uncertainty and obstacles due to COVID-19 enveloping the spring and summer, there is reason for excitement in Deer Lodge County.
This is thanks, in part, to new head coach Riley Schell. After spending the previous two seasons as an assistant, Schell has hit the ground running by generating new interest through fundraising and organizing workouts.
“The plan for us was just getting people interested,” Schell said. “I’m the only coach who has stayed from the past two years, so I had the same option to leave. But I wanted to be here.”
Schell’s dedication to staying then led to the aforementioned fundraising, which has been a tremendous success in a relatively time.
“We raised about $30,000 through mowing lawns, doing other jobs and donations from the community,” Schell said. “We’ve got brand new college level equipment. Our goal was $6,000 and we raised that in early June, and the kids said if we can keep doing this, let’s get new equipment. They’ve been doing all types of jobs, and now we’ve ordered new helmets and football pads for every player.”
And while the Copperheads have put in the work to raise funds, they’ve kept momentum going by putting in work in the gym and on the field. In recent years, participation in the football program had dipped, which led to considerating a co-op with Butte Central.
According to Schell, somewhere between 20 and 30 kids are coming for sanctioned morning weightlifting sessions, and close to 50 Copperheads are coming out in the afternoon once they clock out of their respective jobs or when baseball practice ends.
The drastic change is one that Schell knew was possible but wasn’t easy. Building a culture takes time, but spring cancellations and a disrupted summer have actually given the coach a kickstart in his first offseason.
“They want to be successful and be winners,” Schell said. “But they don’t know how to do it yet. Football is not a sport you play by yourself, you need everyone out there to buy in. The kids were dying to get in the weight room and do something due to no spring sports… It’s been a hard couple of years, but you have to find what culture works. I’ve seen what works and what didn’t. I’ve been able to keep all the things I like intact.”
But don’t get it twisted. The circumstances have seen the Anaconda program see huge boosts in participation and fundraising, but it’s not without challenges.
For Schell, that’s bearing the weight of navigating COVID-19 and whether a season will happen in 2020.
“It’s been pretty stressful,” Schell said. “We had to wait for the school board and the county health officials to let us get in there and do summer lifting and conditioning… I told these kids not to worry if there’s a season or not, we’re going to prepare like were playing. They have enough to worry about, jobs, families, other sports. I told them not to worry about it. Let the old guy worry about it.”
It’s more stress and more work, but Schell says that his kids’ safety is the top priority. Keeping with regulations is also all the Copperheads can control for 2020, so doing things in line with MHSA is imperative to Schell.
As of mid-July, Schell has invested his time and effort in the community and program, and the town has returned the favor.
Schell has nothing but gratefulness for the Copperheads’ community.
“We want to thank the community members, the team members and the booster club," he said. "They’ve supported me in organizing because coaching and working and everything is crazy, so we’ve sincerely appreciated their help.
“We want this to be something the community can get behind, something that the community wants to watch.”
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