Since Patriot Preparatory Academy opened in 2010-11, the K-12 charter school has aimed to be what superintendent Sean Smith calls a “public school with a private-school feel.”
More than 700 students are enrolled in the school, including nearly 150 in high school. It has been competing in OHSAA postseasons since 2013-14.
Eagles teams include boys and girls volleyball, boys soccer, boys basketball and boys and girls track and field, but that number is expected to grow.
On May 24, the school held a meeting for those interested in participating in middle school football beginning this fall. The plan is to eventually have a high school football program.
Patriot Prep is on Columbus’ east side, just west of Reynoldsburg.
“Honestly, I think it’s something our students have been hoping for for some time,” Smith said. “Football is a program you can really build some excitement around, so a lot of athletes had some interest in it. For us, it’s a matter of time to take that step.”
Smith and Curt Caffey, who is in his fifth year as athletics director, began talking about adding a football program in 2020 before delaying the idea because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Willie Washington has been named the first coach of the program. The plan is to have students in grades 6-8 compete on a middle school team in 2022 and then add a freshman team in 2023 and either a junior varsity or varsity team the next year.
In their inaugural middle school season, the Eagles will play seven road games and no home games. They don’t currently have a field.
The soccer team practices at Willis Park, which touches the school’s property line on Beatrice Drive. The football program also is expected to practice there.
So far, about 30 students have shown interest in playing.
“We had a decent turnout (May 24) and all our coaches were there, so there was some dialogue between the coaches and parents,” said Caffey, who was an assistant boys basketball coach in 2015 when Harvest Prep was the Division IV state runner-up. “I’m overly excited because Mr. Smith and I started chatting about this the year COVID hit. When we reactivated the conversation, it became more and more exciting.”
The newest OHSAA-sanctioned football teams in central Ohio are Worthington Christian, a Division VI program that held its first full season in 2014 and KIPP Columbus, which played its first full season in 2019.
KIPP, which is part of a nationwide network of public charter schools and launched in central Ohio in 2008, went 7-5 and won a Division VI playoff game last fall. It has grown enough in enrollment to move up to Division IV beginning in 2022.
Smith expects Patriot Prep to see exponential growth over the coming years, particularly after adding football.
“Our long-term vision is possibly in purchasing Willis Park or having some kind of community ownership, and maybe we’d be interested in having a turf field one day,” Smith said. “We actually rent (Willis Park) season by season.
“The culture in our (school) is unique. Charter schools like ours are independent districts. We’re known as a college prep program, so we’ve been fortunate enough the last four years to have at least one student earn an associate’s degree. We have very small classes, with 22 per class in elementary and 15 to 25 in our high school classes. The smaller class sizes bring more of a family feel where kids can’t just slip through the cracks.”
Sam Vavzincak, who is from Texas and has middle school coaching experience, and Jordan Flory, a 2011 Defiance Ayersville graduate, are assistants.
Washington is a 1973 Frankfurt (Kentucky) graduate who played football for Georgetown College and has been living in Columbus for about six years.
Now retired, he has 43 years of coaching experience at the middle school, youth and semi-pro levels.
The middle school team, according to Washington, is expected to face Grove City Christian, Fairfield Christian and other small central Ohio schools next fall with an eye on possibly adding at least two more games.
“(Patriot Prep) has got other sports like track and soccer, but they need a football team,” Washington said. “There’s a bunch of kids that want to play football. The next few years I’d like to build it up to where there’s a high school program. It’s something I’m looking forward to.”
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Football: Patriot Prep takes first steps to begin program