I don’t think I’m ever going to forget the first Louisa Lions football game I covered for The Central Virginian. Mainly because it was the first game they’d lost that season.
I joined the paper in October of 2016, and the Lions traveled to Western Albemarle that Friday night. It was a good game, and the Lions fought to the end, but still came up short. Our broadcast team definitely sent some good-natured ribbing my way on the ride home about me being bad luck. At the risk of giving myself way too much credit, I’m glad to see that I absolutely did not end up being a thorn in the Lions’ paw. I mean, a 36-3 record over the three full seasons I’ve covered the team is pretty thornless.
If you had told me when I began covering the Louisa Lions that I would see the team go 10-0 across three consecutive regular seasons, I’m not sure I would have believed it. Doing it once is an impressive feat, forget doing it three years in a row. And, as much as I would like to take credit for being some sort of good luck charm, it’s clear that the reason for that success is the team itself. From the head coach on down to the second- and third-string players, everyone involved with the team poured their heart and soul into each of the past three seasons to come up with the success that they’ve had.
There’s no substitute for hard work and a drive to succeed and the Lions have proven that over and over again over the past three seasons. And having a great atmosphere for the home games definitely helps. Me? I’m just an observer along for the ride. And it’s been a pretty good ride so far. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.
36 wins, three losses! Wow! I tip my hat to all the student-athletes, the coaching staff, the Boosters, the fans, the field crew, the press box crew and all involved. In all my years of being involved in LCHS sports since being in school in the early to mid-60’s I cannot remember such a run. We’ve had success in baseball for years; in basketball from the late 80’s thru the 90’s and more recently the last four or five years (and I’m not overlooking the successes of all the other LCHS athletic programs).
Now we can add football to that list. It started after what I thought was rock bottom, a 0-10 season. After improvement in the early 00’s, the choice of Mark Fischer as head coach lit a fire into what would become known as The Jungle.
Overflow crowds, high expectations and loads of promotions (think sky divers, flaming Lion, real Lion, etc.-all started under the direction of then Athletic Director Doug Straley) have elevated Lions football in Louisa to true “Friday Night Lights.”
It has been a joy to bring the game action into your living room, den, or wherever you were, shut in, unable to travel, etc., for those who couldn’t make it to the game for almost 40 years. I’ve been blessed to work with Dicky Purcell, Byron Mehlhaff, Ronnie Fisher, Dr. John Hodge and some others over that time. But my personal joy is found in having and watching former Lions coaching.
It’s true, there’s no place like home.
I have been a follower of Louisa football since the 1950’s. My senior year in high school, Jim Artz became the football coach and with Dicky Hopkins at quarterback, the team won two district championships.
Then there was an era of losing teams until Hal Lockhart became coach and turned things around. Louisa won the Battlefield title in the early ‘70s, going 9-1, losing in the playoffs to Harrisonburg. After Lockhart’s tenure things turned sour once again. I started helping Tommy Nelson on radio broadcasts in 1982. We endured many losing seasons—Tommy and I joked that we got to see plenty of pretty girls and hear great bands as Louisa was everyone’s Homecoming game! There was one season under Coach Rick Vrhorvac that Louisa made the playoffs.
When Mark Fischer became coach and Doug Straley athletic director, it all began to change. The Lions started winning and the community really got behind the program. It was the place to be on Friday night and the atmosphere in the Jungle was like none I had ever seen in my years of watching high school football.
In 2006 Louisa had its first unbeaten season, going all the way to the state championship where they lost to Amherst. In the history of LCHS football prior to 2017 there had been only two unbeaten regular seasons, both under Coach Fischer.
The past three seasons the Lions have won 30 consecutive regular games, an unprecedented feat in Louisa football history. Coach Fischer passed the torch to Coach Will Patrick. He and his staff are still running with that torch, just like those who carry the Olympic torch. Coach Patrick and his coaches have kept the fire lit through many hours of hard work, dedication to the task and their love and devotion to these football players and teaching them life lessons on the football field.
I have seen an amazing turnaround of football in my lifetime: A rich tradition of winning on the playing field and great community involvement.
If you are a high school football fan, Louisa County is a pretty good place to call home. Over the past 15 years, no other public school program in this area has had as much gridiron success as the Louisa County High School Lions. But it hasn’t always been that way. I remember moving to Louisa in 1983 and asking, “How is our football team?” The answer I usually got was, “We have a real good baseball team.”
Along about 2003, the tide turned for Louisa football when a coach by the name of Mark Fischer took over in what can only be called a perfect match of the right coach at the right school at the right time.
The support this community has provided to our football team has truly been amazing and is a tribute to the hard work, sacrifice and dedication from both coaches and players. Multiple playoff appearances, two trips to the State Championship game and, most importantly, the development of quality young men that represent this community in a way that makes us all proud.
I have had the pleasure of being a fan, a parent of a player and most recently I’ve had the opportunity to help Tommy Nelson and Dicky Purcell broadcast the Louisa games. What a fun ride that has been. The last 15 years as a Lions football fan have been a real treat. Hats off to Coach Will Patrick and his staff and thanks to our school administration for the great support. And thanks to all of you for helping make Louisa Football the success story it has become.
See you in “The Jungle”!
Tommy Nelson, Dicky Purcell and Byron Mehlhaff will be back on the air to cover the Lions’ football team next season. Joseph Haney continues to cover Louisa Lions athletics for The Central Virginian throughout the year.