Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A word on Ray Long.......

Coach Ray Long came to Patrick Henry from what was then Liberty Junior High School in the fall of 1982 to become head football coach. My class did the same, so I arrived as a sophomore at PH when Long took over the reins.

Those of us who grew up in Western Hanover County in the 1970s knew what Patrick Henry Football represented: very, very little. Losing seasons were the normal, 1-9 was nothing unusual. The thought of having a winning football program at PH was, at worst, laughable, at best, somewhat of a pipe dream.

Ray Long changed all that.

He (as well as the many wonderful assistants who were with him, several for most of his tenure) instilled some things in Ashland that hadn't been found previously.

--Work Ethic

He also was able to recruit kids to try out for the team who, in the past, either didn't want to or simply weren't reached out to.

Here's how the 1982-83 yearbook described Ray Long's first season as Head Football Coach:

"Triumph. Victory. Disappointment. They were all felt during Patrick Henry's most successful football season in 14 years. Coach Long's great leadership ability carried the team to a top 10 position in the district. Not only was there a turnaround statistic-wise, but there was also a turnaround in school spirit and support by Patriot fans. No longer did you find the home side bleachers clearing with the 4th quarter; anxious fans stayed to see the entire victory spectacle. The season provided everyone with a new attitude about being a Patriot."

Upon that foundation, Coach Long leaves tonight with 228 career wins, the most ever in the Central Region.

I remember "storming the field" when PH upset then Richmond powerhouse (and state ranked) Jefferson-Huguenot-Wythe 3-0. I remember the picture of Coach Long holding a football high, being carried off the field by players after the season finale victory over Douglas Freeman in '82, finishing off an unheard of 7-3 Patriot campaign.

I was in the press box when PH finally beat Lee-Davis in the Tomato Bowl in 1983. The first "long trip" my Dad ever let me drive on my own after getting my driver's license was to make the journey from Beaverdam to Hopewell to watch PH in its first-ever playoff appearance against the Blue Devils in November, 1983.

And now, after having been blessed to watch almost every game over the past eight seasons from the press box as well (albeit on the "wrong" side of the field for us elder Patriot alumni--ha ha), I'm honored to say I had a very small part in bringing the story of a true legend to a community he dedicated his life to and loves so dearly.

I already see rumors online that his "retirement" may not of been of his own choosing. It's way too early to know "the whole story". If he was pushed out, shame on the current administration. Either way, Long is too much of a man to tell us what happened. He simply retired.

At the end of the 2008 season, I noted on the air that the Patriots were going into 2009 with more questions than they had had in many, many years. There were large losses to graduation, and the "heir apparent" running back and quarterback weren't obvious to us as observers and fans.

Now, with today's announcement, the number of questions surrounding 2010 and beyond far outnumber the questions of 12 months ago.

I do ask the Patrick Henry decisionmakers to be very prudent about how the program moves forward. One losing season doth not a "problem" make. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In the meantime, I wish Coach Long happiness and great success. And if any high school in the area is looking......they'd idiots not to at least ask him. :)

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