Catholic football program continues to serve community, develop leaders

GREEN BAY — The St. Joseph Wildcats football program has produced its share of outstanding players. Alumni from the program, which began in 2002, currently play at the collegiate level at schools in Wisconsin, Minnesota and West Virginia. While helping players develop on the field is an important goal for the coaches, it’s secondary to helping them grow as people, according to Morris Strain, St. Joseph athletic director and coach of the sixth grade team this season.

The St. Joseph Wildcats football program, which started in 2002, continues to provide opportunities for students from various Green Bay schools to learn and play the game. The goal of the program is to develop leaders, said Morris Strain, St. Joseph athletic director and a coach in the program. (Submitted photo | For The Compass)

“We are trying to turn kids into young men and women,” he said. “We try to develop leaders and not followers. Followers end up following their way into trouble. Leaders set the path that they choose. If they become good people, that’s the best success possible.”

The Wildcats have more than 60 players in the program this year and field teams at the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade levels. The player fee is $80. Strain credits the St. Joseph Athletic Club and members of the Quad Parishes in Green Bay for their support.

“The St. Joseph Athletic Club does a lot of work to keep this running,” he said. “They do booyah sales, tent sales, to help keep the fee low. I stress to the parents the need to support the fundraisers. They help us to make sure kids have a place to play.”

The St. Joseph players are from numerous schools in Green Bay. In 2013, the middle schools in the Green Bay Area Public School District started football programs. Strain said that it hurt numbers on the St. Joseph teams, but the program persevered. The St. Philip Falcons and Allouez Buccaneers are the other two area programs not affiliated with the public school system.

“Most of the schools have teams, but some of the kids from those schools choose to play with us because they start with us in fifth and sixth grade,” explained Strain. “The programs at the schools start in seventh grade.”

Strain added that the St. Joseph coaches have received positive feedback from area high school coaches about former St. Joseph Wildcats. The St. Joseph coaches move up each year with the players.

“I think it helps with the development of the kids,” said Mike Boone, coach of this year’s fifth grade team. “We start with them and build that coach-player relationship. Every year that grows.

“In fifth grade, we don’t focus on the wins and losses,” he said. “It’s about learning the game and helping them grow as athletes. In sixth grade, we implement a lot of new things. Now we are ready for some football. In seventh and eighth grade, we try to field competitive teams.”

“I like the discipline and the respect we get from the coaches,” said JaySean Wright, a running back and outside linebacker on the eighth grade team. “We also play way more games (than other programs).”

Each St. Joseph team has eight or nine games on its 2019 schedule. Practices are held at Marquette Park and home games are played at Green Bay West High School. Road games include trips to Fond du Lac, Oshkosh and Sheboygan.

“Teamwork and playing hard” is what Zach Le Mieux, an eighth grade offensive tackle and defensive end, said he has learned in his years in the program. Building friendships with peers from other schools also stands out. Le Mieux, who attends St. Joseph School, and Wright, a student at Franklin Middle School, look forward to being football teammates once again at Notre Dame Academy next year.

Boone, who played for the St. Patrick Parish football program in Green Bay during his youth, said that involvement in the football program has led to the young people playing other sports.

“Morris also coaches basketball, so that’s another opportunity,” he said. “I coach baseball in the spring. We try to keep the kids together as much as possible year round. They can keep learning these life lessons. The more time we can keep them out here, keep them occupied doing something productive, the less time they have to look for something to do.”

Taylor Kasee, a tight end on the eighth grade team, knows this lesson firsthand. Kasee, who joined the program this year, began the season with an ankle monitor.

“I was getting in trouble in the streets,” he said. “Then I came to football and it helped me get through everything and helped me become a better young man. This is a really good program.”

Kasee plans to play football in high school, but may change positions.

“I’m a receiver,” he said. “I play tight end (for the Wildcats) because of my strength blocking.”

“He needed this,” said Strain. “That’s what it’s all about; giving kids opportunities.”