Chemistry Creates Champions

I can’t remember a time when I did not adore the game of football.  Growing up in Central Ohio, football is the fabric of our cultural identity.

It is an entire community gathering for high school football on Friday nights.

It is the all-day spectacular that is college football on Saturday.

It is the recovery that consists of resting on the couch for the National Football League on Sunday.

Football is simply how we have been raised in Central Ohio, and I would guess the entire Midwest.

My high school experience created a clear appreciation for the role of a high school football coach in the lives of the players, the school and community as a whole.

Photo by Andrew Downing

The great Bob Stuart was already a legend by the time he became head coach at Reynoldsburg High School.  I was in 8th grade.  He changed the entire identity of our community and gave us instant credibility.  It was cool to wear “R-Burg Football” shirts at Eastland Mall.  We walked with a renewed sense of pride upon his arrival; I mean we were deemed worthy to be coached by Coach Stuart!  It was an unbelievable experience being coached by someone of his stature.

I vividly remember the vision of him walking throughout the locker room or the weight room.  It was like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood walking in.  His legendary status combined with his contributions to the game of football, he was just a larger than life figure.  We all desperately wanted to gain some sense of approval from him and this was tremendous motivation.  He and his staff were role models that we all looked up to. I wanted to be that someday! When our players are coached by us, I want them to feel the way I felt when I was coached by Coach Stuart and his staff.

Photo by Andrew Downing

I’ve lived virtually my entire life on the Eastside of Columbus and it has been a tremendous honor being part of such an incredible program.  This is what I dreamed of as I grew.  Bishop Hartley has been called the ‘crown jewel’ of the Eastside and the pride we take in representing the school within Central Ohio and the state of Ohio has been a bonding agent within our team.

This is my home; it’s where I was raised and where I raise my family.  In my eyes, it’s the greatest place in the world and I really believe our kids and community have felt a sense of responsibility in being Hawks.  They take that seriously; it is important to all of us, and there has been no substitute for that devotion to our school relative to our success.

Bishop Hartley has the most football state championships in the history of Franklin County.  I love saying that because that comment has been earned the hard way. It’s very difficult to win at the highest level. I chuckle when I hear kids, coaches or administrators at other schools talk about their school and the state championship as if it is some type of birthright.  I think to myself, do these guys really know how hard it is?  To be really, really good week after week?  I see shirts that say, “Champions are made in the offseason.”

That’s not true.

Everyone works in the off season. Champions are made when it matters most. Champions are made when you are forced to win, with your back against the wall, against someone really good — maybe even better than you.

You have to. It’s win or go home.

Provided by Brad Burchfield

That’s when champions are made. It’s really rare. It’s really difficult. And it’s not for everyone.  It would be disingenuous for me to talk in terms of false modesty about our football family.  We have a great thing going. We have the type of program that mirrors our school in every way.  The culture and climate of our school creates an undeniable chemistry. But we have worked really hard and intentionally to do it.

With statewide success and recognition, many people have been asking me the probing question:


Is there a more important question in competitive athletics? As coaches, it is the question that we spend countless hours contemplating and I am smart enough to know that I don’t have all of the answers, yet passionate enough to feel like my beliefs are strong and full of conviction.  I have a little clarity on how and why we win.  I was talking about winning state championships with a high school coach that I respect.

I said, “Here is what I think makes a state champion: 50% talent.  40% chemistry.  10% luck/chance/whatever.”  I really believe that.

Now, I can’t really talk about the talent part.  A lot of that happened at procreation for a young athlete. Being bigger, stronger and faster is going to give you a better chance against someone smaller, weaker and slower. No question to that. And the luck factor, well who the heck knows.  But I do know that on all the great teams that I have been a part of, I can point to a couple of plays here and there in really big playoff games that for whatever reason, it happened for us.  That’s part of that 10%.  But, chemistry is so important.  And I don’t know exactly what we do to build it and to harness it, but it is there.  And it’s evident to anyone who has been around our football family.

Chemistry is why we win, and chemistry is best seen when you need it the most.  In those tough ball games, against really good clubs, and the deck is stacked against you — that’s when we have found out about our chemistry.

We are a school built upon diversity. Our children come from diverse backgrounds and to see them come together is absolute magic. I’m smart enough to know that it doesn’t “just happen.”  These families embrace the school, and the school embraces them.  It has to be genuine affection among one another that builds that trust, or that chemistry that we talk about is bogus; kids will see through it when times get tough.

Photo by Andrew Downing

Chemistry is how the kids talk to and about one another.  From the All-Ohio player, to the kid who doesn’t play at all.

Chemistry is what the parents tell their children about the school and the coaches.  Do they trust them?  Or are they ready to turn on them when times get tough?

Chemistry is how the star player and history teacher relate to one another.  Do they respect each other’s talents and abilities?  Is it genuine?

It’s easy to see on the field if chemistry is real or contrived.  Look at how we have responded when times are the toughest.  Historical Resiliency is referred to all the time with our team.  Time after time our kids have responded.  It’s not accidental; it’s in their DNA.  Its chemistry.  

You can determine chemistry by these two questions:  How much do the kids love each other and how much do the kids love their school and community? If their is love is real and sincere, the kids will play for each other and they will play for the school. They will give everything they have, and then some more. Sacrifice, trust, teamwork, determination, etc. All those really tough words  — that you find on motivation shirts in the offseason — are put to the test in moments of strife on the field. Chemistry is what wins.

I don’t think everyone believes this. I’m getting uncomfortable with some of the ways I see teams created around Ohio.  I see teams all the time that sacrifice chemistry for talent. We are living in a ‘transfer era’ in Central Ohio sports and I shake my head at that. It’s disheartening on a lot of levels. I mean, these kids that take the easy way out and transfer all the time, will never feel like I felt: growing up waiting their chance to play for their community; making their community better by representing their school.

In a way it is sad. How will they ever have a school that is theirs?  How can they ever create ownership of a program? I’m sure there is a story to every transfer, but I’ve seen too many times where they didn’t get their way at their previous school, and looked for something easier. You see where I’m going with this.  Those programs that fall short year after year with all the ballers, did they believe in chemistry?  I mean, really believe it?

In the era of Competitive Balance in Ohio, I can sense the cynicism from those who bang the drum against Catholic and Parochial Schools.  They might say that we have distinct unfair advantage, even going as far to suggest some type of skullduggery and underhandedness leading to insincere victories.  I’m sure they are reading my exposition about chemistry winning championships and rolling their eyes.

I refuse to be drawn into the current climate within the furor of competitive balance.  We will play who they tell us to play, and if we are good enough, we will win. And, no matter what, we will work to get better. To the Competitive Balance Warriors across the state of Ohio, those who have been looking for the magic answer, I want to propose a few questions to you.

How much do the kids love each other and their school?

How hard do the kids play for each other?  Look in their hallways during the school day.  Look in their locker rooms.  Listen to what the kids, parents, teachers, coaches, and administrators all say about each other.

Where is their chemistry?

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