A new era in Bartow high football debuted Wednesday and first-year head coach Jason Butler invited anyone who has an interest in the sport to watch practice.
Butler, who started as the new head coach Friday, April 26, appeared before the Rotary Club with the school’s athletic director Benjamin Bratten Wednesday saying there will be a new era in Bartow football starting that day, as the first day of practice was going to take place in about an hour. He called the change a community approach.
He wants the community to feel like they’re part of the team.
“We don’t have closed practices so I want to see you come by and see us,” he said.
Butler comes to Bartow High School after being the defensive coordinator at Lakeland High School. He is a former Yellow Jacket player, a member of the 1997 team — his senior year — that won the state championship against Jacksonville Bolles. He played college ball at the University of South Florida where he won the MVP award in 1998 and the LeRoy Selmon Award in 2000.
He said returning to Bartow and coaching the team here is a great accomplishment for him, but taking it to the next level is the goal. He said one of the worst experiences he had was facing Bartow in a game when he was coaching in Lakeland and looking across the field from the 30-yard line. He said a disadvantage to coaching in Lakeland was knowing whether or not a player was supposed to go your school.
“One of the big attractions of Bartow is we know who the players are,” he said. “In Lakeland we don’t know if they’re going to Jenkins or some other school. Here we can go to the little leagues and see the players.”
He said he wants to be able to get to the younger players when they are in those leagues.
“We want to allow you to allow us to get the youth and lead them in the right direction,” he said.
Before Butler spoke, BHS athletic director Ben Bratten pointed out to members of the Rotary what that means. Currently the school has six teams with combined GPAs in the high honors range.
“We want to build students both athletically and academically,” he said.
And he’s also excited about the new coaching staff, a group of coaches Butler has brought on himself.
“I’m excited about next fall,” Bratten said. “We’ve had a 50 percent increase in players since (Butler’s) come on board.”
Bartow High begins its football season Aug. 23 against Frostproof and hosts six of its 11 games, ending the year with a home game against Lake Wales on Nov. 8. Other teams they host include Lake Region on Sept. 13, Jenkins on Sept. 20, Kathleen on Oct. 4 and Lakeland on Oct. 18.
And in closing, Butler reminded folks that the man sitting next to him, Rotary President Mat Chinault, was part of that championship team and played next to him on the offensive line that year.
But Chinault pointed out: “I’m sure they could have won the championship without me, but probably not without our star.”
New member of club
Katherine Combee became the newest member of the Rotary Club, as she was pinned and welcomed Wednesday.
She had a brief speech thanking everyone for accepting her, but had to be quick as she had to return to court by 1 p.m. as the circuit judge had a trial going on. She compared working as a judge — she was elected to the position last August — to being a member of the club in that both give back to the community.
“When I was elected judge I told people I wanted to give back to the community,” she said. “As a member of the judicial service you can do that with this. But I want to give back to the community in a different way and in Rotary I can do that.”