Friday, June 29, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Sylvan Hills begins team camps in July

Leader sportswriter

Team football camps have been the norm for Sylvan Hills this summer as the Bears prepare for fall in their new 5A Central Conference. The Bears will continue that theme into July with three-straight team camps each Monday along with Maumelle and Pulaski Robinson, with 7 on 7 practice scrimmages on Thursdays.

Good numbers in the spring and a variety of talent among new incoming players is long-awaited news for head coach Jim Withrow and staff, who have struggled in the rebuilding process since losing the last group to reach the state playoffs back in 2009.

For the second-straight summer, the Bears have stayed away from 7-on-7 events and weekly leagues, instead focusing on the 11-man approach of team camps.

“One of the things we talked about was getting more people involved,” Bears coach Jim Withrow said. “I’ve got a feeling that we’re going to end up being pretty young up front, so it’s good to get those guys out there and give them an opportunity.”

Low overall numbers have been at the root of the problem for the past three seasons going back to the last time Sylvan Hills reached the postseason in ’09.

A small roster meant limited depth in several different areas, but spring practice in May brought new hope with a turnout of close to 70 players. Withrow said he expects at least 60 potential players to still be on hand at the first of August.

“That final class back when we had Ahmad Scott and Jordan Spears, they were great guys, but there were less than 10 of them,” Withrow said of the senior 2009 class. “We knew it was going to look like this for a while, but I like our future. There are some good athletes with this younger group, and a lot of really good football players.”

Part of the conference landscape will be familiar for the Bears this season while other parts will be somewhat of a throwback with local rival Jacksonville getting back into the 5A mix as a return member.

North Pulaski, Helena West-Helena Central and Mills University Studies joined Sylvan Hills in the transfer from their former 5A Southeast Conference to the 5A Central, joining Little Rock McClellan, as well as private schools Little Rock Christian Academy and Pulaski Academy.

The realignment will make for less travel time with the exception of games against Helena West-Helena Central, with every other school in the league from central or northern Pulaski County.

“I think the crowds ought to be great this year,” Withrow said. “And think of all the rivalries you have right there with that bunch. It will be a lot better on travel, and everyone will save a ton of money.”

Having a team like the Bruins in the same conference is particularly challenging considering the amount of success Pulaski Academy has had in both the 4A and 5A classifications in recent years. But Withrow said he is a firm believer that today’s struggles can lead to tomorrow’s triumphs.

“This is where you can either embrace it or cry about it,” Withrow said. “We look at it as an opportunity to get to that level, and it will happen. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but we can get there. And if you can get to the point where you can beat PA, you’re going to have a chance to win the whole thing. We’re looking forward to it.”