“Milford football is a tradition, a family, and all families have their ups and downs,” Strickland said before the season started. “We as a team and as a family we will face adversity, we will push through adversity and beat adversity together as a family."
First-year Milford High football coach Shaun Strickland
When a high school’s football team is winning, there’s a different feeling on all those chilly autumn Friday nights.
Suddenly, the members of the marching band step a little higher, the cheerleaders yell just a little louder and members of the community fill the grandstands, hoping to be become a part of the winning fabric.
The feeling has been missing from Milford High’s Briggs Stadium since 2009, the last time the Buccaneers posted a winning record on the football field.
However, under first-year head football coach Shaun Strickland, things are changing. The Bucs are winning – regularly.
Ryan Winkleblech, in his first year as Milford’s athletic director, said there has been a definite shift in the atmosphere at the school.
“The community is excited and we’re excited at the school,” Winkleblech said. “Things are changing here at Milford. We’re starting to get some pride back in the school and the community – which is a good thing.”
The team is 5-3 heading into Friday night’s game versus Henlopen Conference Southern Division rival Delmar. With just two regular-season games remaining, the team has already guaranteed itself a .500 season. With a couple more wins, the state tournament will be in reach. But right now, just winning has been nice considering the Buccaneers posted identical 1-9 records the past two seasons.
Greg Holstein was selling programs near the main gate of Briggs Stadium during last Friday night’s game against Woodbridge. He said he can tell a vast difference in the games this season.
“The community is behind it and it’s been a lot of fun,” Holstein said. “It was a tough stretch [the last couple of years], but we’re happy where we are now, that’s all I can say. When you’re winning the atmosphere’s always a lot better.
“It seems like it’s going that way in the other sports, too. We won the boys and girls cross country Henlopen South championships, field hockey’s doing well and the referendum recently passed ... Hey, things are going our way.”
In the background, the Marching Bucs were playing a Michael Jackson-inspired halftime show. Band director Christine Smith said they are happy that every game seems to be a “Thriller” this season.
“It’s always more fun to play when a team’s winning than for a losing team. We’re pumped,” Smith said. “It’s great knowing it’s not going to be the same outcome each and every time. Going in knowing that kind of pumps them up. It’s like, ‘Hey, let’s go win again.’”
Sophomore cheerleader Deandra Kufahl said it’s their job to keep the crowd into the game no matter what. Still, she said, she has been enjoying this year just a little bit more.
“Honestly yes [it’s nice to be winning], but we’re here to support the team no matter what,” Kufahl said. “It’s extremely different. I feel like the school has a lot more school spirit and we’re really proud of our team. It’s enjoyable and we’re excited for it.”
Milford won the 2008 Division II state championship with a 20-0 victory over Laurel, but times have been tough. The Buccaneers had managed to go just 15-45 since that memorable year. They probably hit rock bottom when they were outscored 109-0 in their first three games last year.
This year, Strickland took the helm.
“Milford football is a tradition, a family, and all families have their ups and downs,” Strickland said before the season started. “We as a team and as a family we will face adversity, we will push through adversity and beat adversity together as a family.
“This will make us a stronger team, and individually it will make them better young men not just in this game, but in the classroom and in life ... because at the end of the day family, education, and preparing them for the real world is the most important focus of all and really what we are here for as teachers and coaches.”
And the success appears to be contagious. Of six teams that compete in fall sports for the Buccaneers, only volleyball finished with a losing record, just barely, at 7-8.
“They’re doing really well and it’s always a great way to start off the school year when you get some wins with the football team,” Winkleblech said. “It really gets the excitement going with the student body and that goes with any other sport, too. All of our sports have been pretty successful this year.”
And even though Milford ended up losing to Woodbridge 17-14 last Friday, it was another step in a rebuilding process – one that everyone on and around the team seems focused on.