Enthusiastic fans and players flocked to Oak Ridge High School on Saturday for a first-of-its-kind pep rally that incorporated all sports and featured a football coach that helped the Wildcats win their last state championship and is leading the team once more.
The pep rally was part of what had officially been proclaimed Wildcat Day by the Oak Ridge City Council. The rally featured short cheerleader routines, music by members of the Oak Ridge High School Band, short speeches from city and school officials, an introduction to the ORHS Wildcats football team and coaches, and fireworks.
It was open to athletes and fans of all sports. Booster clubs, middle schools, and the Boys Club had also been invited, said Len Hart, president of the Oak Ridge Quarterback Club. For some, it was about restoring a proud tradition for a football program that has been considered one of the best in the state and, at times, highly ranked nationally.
“We’re going to make this grow every year,” said Hart, an organizer of Saturday’s event. “We’re trying to push athletics in Oak Ridge as much as some people push academics.” Both are important, Hart said, and the two go hand in hand.
Joe Gaddis, who coached the Wildcats football team from 1988 to 1998 and returned in March, was a featured speaker.
“I believe we have the best high school football tradition in Tennessee,” Gaddis said. He said the Wildcats have won eight state championships—in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1975, 1979, 1980, and 1991—and one national championship—in 1958. The team was eight points away from a ninth state title in 2005.
“This decade’s not over yet,” Gaddis said. The coach led Oak Ridge to its last state championship, and supporters believe he could lead the team to another one in as little as two years.
Many fans have enthusiastically greeted the coach’s return to Oak Ridge after 15 years away. They and Gaddis believe that fan support for football can be revitalized, the number of players increased, and confidence and excitement restored. Gaddis said this year’s team includes close to 130 players, including roughly 55 freshmen and about 75 varsity athletes. The team is young and inexperienced but will “come of age” by the end of the season, he said.
Gaddis has an overall 258-112 record in his 30 years as head coach. Almost half of those wins—or 119 of them—came while he served as head coach at Oak Ridge High School.
His 119-24 record at Oak Ridge is the best in the school’s history. Gaddis led the Wildcats to a 14-1 record and the Class AAA state championship in 1991.
“Under Gaddis, the Wildcats made 10 playoff appearances in 11 years, and the team produced nine seasons with 10 wins or more,” the Oak Ridge Schools said earlier this year.
School supporters said they wanted to see Wildcat Day become an annual event. The schools have had football pep rallies in the past, but Saturday’s event was the first to incorporate all sports, said David Bryant, ORHS interim principal.
“Right now here tonight, it’s a beginning of a continuation of a tradition,” said Keys Fillauer, Oak Ridge Board of Education chair. “Don’t let traditions die.”
“This is good…to get parents and kids together right after the school year started,” said accountant Tracy Larabee, a Wildcats fan born and raised in Oak Ridge.
The Wildcats open their 2013 season at Farragut at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The first home game against Clinton at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6 is also Former Wildcat Night.