By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
The NorthWood Panthers have a long established tradition in high school football.
The Fairfield Falcons are in the process of building a tradition of their own.
The two schools, both located within Elkhart County, are not that far apart but have never clashed on the gridiron. That will all be changing once the 2014 season rolls around as the two programs have announced an agreement on a four-year series.
“I’m excited and looking forward to it,” Fairfield coach Bob Miller said. “Back in December, our Athletic Director Mark Hofer talked to me about the possibility of Garrett coming back into the NECC and the potential schedule openings that could create in Weeks 1 and 2. NorthWood was one of the first schools that came to mind. When you think about Elkhart County football you think Jimtown, NorthWood and Concord.”
NorthWood coach Scott Hoover said, “We are very excited. Jimtown has become a good rival for us and we are hoping Fairfield is going to be another one.
“Both schools feature players that are well-coached and there is good tradition in both programs. I didn’t realize the schools have never played until I was talking to some of the Fairfield coaches about three weeks ago.”
This should be a good move for both schools.
One benefit for Northwood should be another good gate as the Falcon faithful travel well and that should be especially true when the distance is short enough that the two school distract border each other.
“Our fans travel and it should be even better when it’s to a connecting community,” Miller said.
The Falcons play in the NECC and should benefit from having an NLC squad on their schedule. In order to be the best you have to compete against the best. Fairfield (Class 3A) should see positives come tournament time by playing the 4A Panthers.
“A couple of years ago when we were playing Jimtown, Harding and Fort Wayne Luers in the state tournament it was a way for our kids to see what it takes to play at that high level,” Miller said. “This is just another way of doing that.”
Miller sees this as a natural rival for the Falcons the way Northridge was back in his playing days and in the 1980s when he began coaching.
“The Fairfield and NorthWood school districts border each other,” Miller said. “So you are looking at situations where people work together or go to church together.”
Hoover sees the game with the Falcons as a benefit for his kids as well.
“This will be another game to get us ready for the tough NLC schedule,” he said.
The first game will be on Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 at Fairfield, followed by an Aug. 28, 2015 meeting at NorthWood, an Aug. 26, 2016 contest at Fairfield and an Aug. 25, 2017 matchup at NorthWood.
Another benefit according to Hoover is a freshman game.
“This should give us a full slate of game at the varsity, JV and freshmen levels,” the coach said.
Both schools are products of the wave of consolidations in the late 1960s with their initial season in 1969. Nappanee and Wakarusa were consolidated into NorthWood while New Paris and Millersburg combined to make up Fairfield.
Neither school has had a lot of turnover at the head coaching spot. Miller is the fifth coach in Falcon history and Hoover the fourth at NorthWood.
Bill Putorti coached Fairfield in it’s first season before John Weaver took over for the next 12. Toby Kidder took over for six seasons followed by 1975 Goshen High School graduate Jim Jones for the next 14.
Miller, a longtime Falcon assistant, was elevated to the top spot in 2002.
Fairfield was 7-4 last season to give Miller a 72-48 career mark.
Dan Ransberger was the NorthWood coach for the first three seasons before the legendary Jim Andrews took over.
Andrews guided the Panthers to a sparkling 150-67 record in 20 seasons be he was tragically killed in an automobile accident. His longtime assistant, also a NorthWood coaching legend, Rich Dodson took over and stayed 17 season leading the team to a noteworthy 169-50 mark.
Hoover took over in 2009 and he has a 26-21 career mark after last season’s 5-6 record.
NorthWood won it’s first of 17 sectional titles in 1980 under the guidance of Andrews. The Panthers have 10 regional championships, five semistates titles and a 3A state championship in 2005 for Dodson.
The Falcons don’t have that kind of reputation in the state tournament as Miller guided the 2009 squad to the program’s first and only sectional championship in 2009.
Contact sports reporter Greg Keim at 533-2151, ext. 326 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.