Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ridgeview Getting Ready for '98: Panthers' First Football Season

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ridgeview Getting Ready for '98: Panthers' First Football Season

Article excerpt

The new kid on the block is facing unusual obstacles with

enthusiasm.

Ridgeview Junior High School, soon to be converted into a

high school, is having its first spring football practice

under new coach Jim Bernhardt.

Bernhardt, 42, the defensive coordinator at Orange Park High

School last season, said there is a lot of excitement about

starting at the ground level of a new program.

"Absolutely, I am excited about being here," said Bernhardt,

who was the head football coach at West Hampton High School in

New York before coming to Orange Park. "Some of the obstacles

that we have to face now are easier to handle because there is a

light at the end of the tunnel. The light will be a beautiful

facility."

However, until the facilities are built, Bernhardt faces

obstacles that many other coaches do not face, but he is not

discouraged.

"We have facilities that are not finished," said the Long

Beach, N.Y., native. "We have equipment that is not in and we

have to get a coaching staff together but just because we have

to walk down the road to practice at the [Ridgeview] elementary

school and the fact that we are missing a helmet or two is no

excuse for not getting it done."

Ridgeview Athletic Director Bob Cozort said Bernhardt has done

a great job within the limitations of transition. Cozort,

Ridgeview's athletic director for 11 years, said spring practice

has been held at the nearby elementary school because the new

football stadium and practice field won't be ready until July.

Cozort said the team has only eight games on its schedule right

now and won't qualify for district playoffs.

"We will not be allowed to compete in the playoffs because we

will not play a district schedule," Cozart said. "Since we are

basically considered an independent, it has been tough to

schedule opponents."

Cozort said he expects Ridgeview to join the Class 5A district

that includes Middleburg High School in 1999.

Also, the school will not have its first senior class until

1999. This fall, the football team will consist of the grades

nine through 11. Principal Joanne Roberts said it would not be

fair to ask students from other schools to pull up roots after

their junior year in order to be a senior at Ridgeview.

Despite the limitations, Bernhardt has some basic objectives

for spring practice.

"We want to get ourselves and our kids acquainted," Bernhardt

said. "We want to put in our way of doing things and establish

our system of how we are going to play football."

So far, more than 80 players from the eighth to the 10th grade

have responded to the new program. Players who will be coming

from other county high schools in the fall have been given

permission to attend spring practice. …

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