WESTFIELD – When Josh Cheek led the Westfield football team onto the practice field on Tuesday afternoon, he was doing so as a head coach for the first time in his young coaching career.
And as excited as Cheek was to get things started, his first real challenge with the Pioneers will be coaching a team that likely is going to be forced to cancel its varsity season due to a lack of junior and seniors on the roster.
According to the first-year head coach, of the 27 kids practicing on Tuesday, only one of them was a senior, and just three others were juniors. With so few experienced players out for football this year in Westfield, Cheek said he expects the decision will be made in the next day or two to play a junior varsity schedule only this fall.
“We’re probably not going to play a varsity schedule this year, unless some of those older kids come out in the next day or two,” Cheek said.
Westfield currently has eight junior varsity games scheduled, but Cheek said some of them might be against programs that won’t have a JV team this fall. Cheek said the plan is to be flexible with the schedule, with the possibility of adding JV games in the future. He also hopes to move some of the junior varsity games to Friday nights, to give the kids the experience of playing under the lights. He is also hoping to have a game scheduled for the school’s Homecoming, which was originally scheduled to be played Friday, Oct. 13 against Wisconsin Dells.
Cheek was hired in the offseason to replace Mike Marr, who went 22-43 in seven seasons in Westfield. Cheek played on the offensive line at Wisconsin Lutheran College before spending three seasons as an assistant football coach Grafton High School, where he worked with brothers Beau and Luke Benzschawel, who are current members of the University of Wisconsin football team.
After his time in Grafton, Cheek got his teaching certification and worked in the Milwaukee Public Schools at James Madison High School. There he worked as the offensive coordinator for the football team and was the head wrestling coach.
With so many young players on his roster this season, Cheek is focused on making sure the players have fun and stick with the sport in the coming years.
“My goal is that they have a good time and they want to come back next year,” said Cheek, who is also teaching eighth-grade math in Westfield. “That will be good for next year. We have just under half of the freshmen boys playing football, which is awesome.”
Cheek also commended the upperclassmen that did show up for the first day of practice on Tuesday.
“Their biggest thing is they’re going to be positive and they’re going to be leaders,” Cheek said. “They chose to stick it out in a less than ideal situation, when a lot of their classmates decided it wasn’t worth it. I think that shows a lot of perseverance to the younger kids, and shows them that it does matter to people, even if some of the older classmates have decided they don’t want to play.”
And while he recognizes canceling the varsity season isn’t ideal, he hopes the decision will help set the program up for better years down the road.
“It will be a good chance to really have some success,” Cheek said, “and build that positive attitude going into next year when we return to varsity football.”