Scott Raker imagines himself one day making tackles for the Greenwood Community High School football team.
At this stage of his life, Raker, 12, considers being a ball boy for the Woodmen the next best thing.
Extremely superstitious when it comes to his attire — the ensemble is always a black T-shirt paired with either tan khakis or black shorts — Raker, a sixth-grader at Greenwood Middle School, stands on the sideline.
He is anxious to contribute in any way he can.
Story continues below gallery
“The best part is hanging out with the other ball boys, the players and the coaches,” said Raker, whose father, Doug, is the defensive line coach for the varsity squad.
“I go to practice every day, and it’s pretty much the highlight of my day.”
Ball boys and (sometimes) ball girls have long been staples of most high school football programs, including the six in Johnson County.
Duties include handing footballs to the officials, running onto the playing surface to bring back the kicking tee and retrieving any wayward punts, field goals or point-after kicks.
It’s a way to be with the varsity without being varsity.
Today’s ball boys are tomorrow’s high school standouts; many current high school players are former ball boys.
“I was a ball boy twice when I was on the Junior Trojans football team,” Center Grove senior defensive end Dan Root said. “I thought it was the absolute coolest thing ever to be on the sideline with guys like Tanner Riley and Luke Swift.
“When I was a kid I looked up to the high school players so much and respected them. Most of us viewed the older players as celebrities and idolized them so much.”
Taking their turns
Due to the enormity of its Bantam League program, Center Grove rotates which players earn the right to rub elbows with their varsity idols.Next week’s Class 6A Sectional 8 contest against Jeffersonville will feature the sideline efforts of Patrick Kendall, Eli Hohlt and Gavin Oakes.
In all, 28 members of the Junior Trojans football teams are in the rotation.
“I’ve been doing this since 2007,” said Scott Hines, a 1982 Center Grove High School graduate. “It would be a lot easier to use the same three or four ball boys every week instead of training them.
“But the Junior Trojans players love doing it. I don’t know if they would be more excited if it was the Colts sideline. Our varsity players are rock stars to them, and they are so great with the ball boys.”
When the Trojans are on offense, Hines stands even with the referee (line of scrimmage) with the ball boys either to his left or right depending on which direction the offense is moving.
During halftime, Center Grove’s ball boys go into the locker room to hand out cups of water or Gatorade to the players.
Hines laughs while recalling the 2008 Class 5A regional game at Castle High School near Evansville.
Played on a grass field in deplorably bad conditions, Hines found himself literally pulling kids from the visitors’ bleachers in an attempt to keep a dry football on the field at all times when the Trojans were on offense.
Center Grove won 49-7 in part by using seven or eight ball boys.
How a high school program selects ball boys usually depends on the head coach.“We do ours year to year,” fourth-year Franklin Community coach Adam Reese said. “Essentially, it started because we had a couple of members of our Franklin Youth Football League who had kids who wanted to do it.”
More often than not, those assisting on the Grizzly Cubs sideline are youth players ranging from Grades 3 to 6.
Being a ball boy also means riding on the bus to road games, which makes memories for those aspiring to someday be varsity players themselves.
At Roncalli, special teams coordinator Chris Strykowski is in charge of managing the ball boys. This season there are four, including Strykowski’s 11-year-old son, Austin.
“With us, we typically try to use younger kids from the CYO program and get them used to the Roncalli football program,” Chris Strykowski said. “It’s another way for us to get the younger kids interested.”
When it comes to the Rebels’ ball boys, there is often already a connection between the ball boys and the school.
Ball boy Judson Lawrie’s mother, Wendy, works in the business office at Roncalli High School.
Greenwood takes two buses. Varsity players and coaches often ride one bus, though Doug Raker has been known to travel on the second bus normally reserved for reserve players, equipment and ball boys.
Again, an opportunity for father and son to do something together.
“I think it’s a positive thing to have those kids on the bus because they really look up to our players,” Reese said of the Grizzly Cubs ball boys.
“Those kids are going to have positive memories, and are sometimes the better recruiters with the younger kids.”
The list of ball boys for local high school football teams this season:
(Next week’s game)