Town Crier Sports Staff
It's football time in Manila. Yes, I said Manila. After an absence of almost 30 years (1978), the Lions are once again throwing the pigskin and the whole town is in a frenzy.
The Lions hit the field Aug. 22 with a jamboree in Rector. An estimated crowd of over 500 Manila faithful tailgated like it was a college football game and later cheered on their heroes, most playing football for the very first time. Never mind that the Lions dropped both games -- 22-6 to Westside and later 3-0 to host Rector. This wasn't about wins and losses. It was about playing the game long absent from the football starved town.
"We are loving this," said Manila Head Coach Toby Doke, who is entering his first year as a head coach. "We are so excited about this opportunity, and the kids are making the most of it. It is so impressive to see these kids come to practice everyday. They are working so hard. A lot of the kids are showing up an hour and a half before practice and have been all summer long. They are not perfect, they are kids, but their effort and attitude are great. They work real hard and their discipline has been great. These kids are really plugged in to football. It has changed a lot of their lives for the better. It's helping them come to school and stay out of trouble. Everyone is giving the maximum effort and doing a great job."
Doke came to Manila from Greene County Tech, where he was the special teams coordinator for the senior high last season, after directing the defense for the junior high two years ago.
"I am thrilled about being at Manila," continued Doke. "I really appreciated the opportunity the school board and community have given me and the coaches, but most of all the kids. The school board really stuck their head out to give us this opportunity, as well as many of the people in the community."
Doke praised the school board, especially members Johnny McCain, Jackie Hill, Scott Misner, and Tony Crowell. He also mentioned several people in the community who have given their time and resources such as Junior Wise, Darrell Birmingham, Frank Kirby, Gene Adams, Len Burks, Craig Wheeler and Kent Moore. "I hate to leave anyone out," said Doke. "There are just so many people to thank. It takes everyone in the community to make something like this happen.
"Our kids fought like dogs against Westside and Rector. What was especially impressive was they had never stepped on a football field before. They have made a remarkable improvement the last three weeks. We started a little slow against Westside, but we really played well the last 30 minutes and lost on a last second field goal to Rector. We could have won the game had we caught a couple of breaks. But the kids really fought hard."
Doke is being assisted by former Baylor Head Coach Bill Beall and defensive coordinator Steven Milligan, who most recently coached at Osceola, a traditional football power. Manila will be running the spread offense and Doke said the Lions will throw the ball a lot. Defensively, Manila will play a basic 4-3 defense, which Doke called "good, technical, sound football."
"We have several lineman who are looking real good, including Andrew Fleeman and Drew Byford," continued Doke. "Chris Adamson and Zach Birmingham are really playing well at linebacker. Cody Webb is doing an outstanding job at running back while Blake Wheeler and Jared Burks are doing a good job at the quarterback position," said Doke.
The Lions started with 45 players but have added another 15-20 since school has started to push their total to over 60. Football fever has caught on like wildfire in Manila. "The kids are really fired up for our first game against Gosnell," said Doke.
The Lions open their regular season with a 7:00 kickoff at Gosnell. Manila will travel to Cross County Sept. 7 and then play Sept. 14 at Greene County Tech. After an open date, the Lions will travel to Trumann for a Sept. 30 contest before closing out the season Oct. 12 at Paragould. After completing their junior high schedule this season, the Lions will gear up for senior high football next season when they will play a junior varsity schedule in addition to their junior high program.