Starting From The Ground Up: How The Lake Country Chiefs Help The Arrowhead Warhawks Churn Out Championship Runs

The Arrowhead Warhawks begin another push for a state championship on Friday night when they host Milwaukee Washington at Taraska Field for a 7 PM kickoff. The Warhawks are not only the defending champions, they have at least played for high school football’s top prize in 12 of the last 20 years, an astounding record of success.

Success never happens by accident and nothing good happens overnight–as the community gets ready to cheer on Arrowhead for what they hope is another deep playoff run, it’s important to note how the success of the varsity starts early, and begins with the foundation laid by participation with the Lake Country Chiefs.

The Chiefs are more than simply the “feeder” program to Arrowhead. Lake Country truly develops young players for the varsity, and it starts by running the same offensive and defensive systems used at the high school level. The complexity obviously varies, depending on whether it’s the fifth grade level or an eighth-grade team, and each Chiefs’ coach can use some nuances tailored to his personnel, but a Lake Country game at any level looks quite similar to an Arrowhead game and that’s by design.

I’ve wondered why more high school programs don’t do this with the youth associations that feed them. It’s something that’s good on every level–learning a football playbook, with all its variations depending on what the opposition is doing is one of the most challenging mental exercises in sports. When kids can come to a season’s first practice in August and already have this foundation in place, it allows them and the coaches to focus on the more subtle aspects of the game, and ultimately makes it more fun for the kids.

When you understand your system like it’s second nature, you can play much more freely, much more on instinct and that’s when any sport really becomes fun. This extends all the way up the ladder to the high school. When the varsity inherits a player, he already has six years (including the freshman and sophomore years of high school) in the system. Everything he’ll learn from the Arrowhead coaches is already second nature.

It’s the volunteer coaches of the Lake Country Chiefs program who deserve enormous credit for making this possible. This is unpaid work, and most of the coaches are simply there because their kids are playing. Yet they take extra time during the summer to attend clinics put on the Arrowhead staff explaining the system and how to implement it.

When you attend a Chiefs’ practice, as I was able to do on numerous occasions this year, you then see the precision with which drills are run. The easy thing to do in youth ball would be to spend the practice scrimmaging and maybe run a few trick plays. It would be fun, but “fun” in this sense would be like eating too much candy–there would be no long-term value.

From fifth grade to eighth grade, the Chiefs players are trained in the fundamentals and work the system from the ground up–from the drills that pair the lineman against each other, to those where the receivers work against the defensive backs, and not until the end does everything come together into some scrimmaging, which is still done with precise purpose in using the plays the coaching staff wants to run on Saturday. It’s a practice done with a level of professionalism that high school coaches employ, but properly tailored to the youth level. And it works.

Another group of people who deserve credit are the parents who volunteer for video duty. If you sit in the press box, or high in the stands for a Chiefs’ game, you’ll find a parent with a video camera shooting the game, so the coaches can review everything and help the kids continue to improve.

This is a job that doesn’t end with the game–the video typically has to be uploaded online and prepared in an organized way so that coaches can review different game situations with ease. It’s another job that takes time and whose reward is not payment, but contributing to their son’s team. And it’s one more cog in a system that helps feed prepared football players to the varsity program down the line.

Success begins from the ground up. That’s the motto of 6th Grade White head coach Roger Porter, whose team has enjoyed a very successful season. Coach Porter was simply referring to the training technique of establishing good footwork as a starting point. But it has meaning that goes well beyond that. If you’re at an Arrowhead playoff game this year or simply cheer them on, don’t forget where it all starts.