Tahlequah’s success on the football field has opened the eyes of many.
It was apparent on Monday and Tuesday with a high turnout at the Tahlequah Youth Football Camp.
Seven straight playoff appearances can do a lot for a program. There’s only been one other time the program has seen as much success.
Tigers’ head coach Brad Gilbert has maintained a consistent brand, and it’s created a trickle-down effect.
There were more than 100 registered first through sixth graders leading up the camp, and an estimated 80 participated.
The Tahlequah High School coaching staff was searching for ways to make up for lost revenue due to the harsh impact of COVID-19 last year.
Gilbert turned to assistant coach Cody Ryals for ideas. Ryals then got the ball rolling with the planning of a youth camp, and he delivered.
“After COVID, we knew we were going to have a tight budget coming into the next year, so we started talking about ways to make a little extra money,” Ryals said. “We didn’t get to have our golf tournament last year either. We started coming up with ideas how to get more money into the program, and I told Coach Gilbert I would get it going, and this is what I was able to get done, but it took everybody. These guys have been awesome helping me out. It’s all the coaches, I was just the guy that got the ball going.”
Disinterest in past years was a big reason for Tahlequah not holding a camp, among other reasons. But that’s all changing.
“Back in the day when they did [the camp], the program wasn’t as successful, the attendance wasn’t there and the school morale wasn’t there,” Ryals said. “Ever since Coach Gilbert and them took over and started winning football games you started to see it on Friday nights in the stands.”
“It’s a lot of work for the coaches to put one of these things on,” Ryals added. “You’re asking them to spend two more nights of the week away from their families in the summertime. It was a lot of things with the biggest being lack of interest, and a lot of work for not very much money.”
Ryals hopes this can become a yearly camp.
“We’ve raised some good money doing this, and we hope it gets bigger and bigger every year,” he said. “We hope to do it again next year.”
The camp involved a wide range of drills that were rotated between age groups. It included instruction from Tahlequah High School coaches and players, and also included guest speaker, State Rep. Bob Ed Culver, R-Tahlequah, a former University of Oklahoma football player from 1976-1981.
“It’s been a great experience for these kids,” Ryals said. “They get to come see some of our high school players, and all of this just creates a better atmosphere for our school, creates more morale for our school, and hopefully gets even more people to attend football games.”