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Irish eyes focus on future and Southeastern

A senior two-way starter at Catholic Central, Cameron Luther has witnessed the highs and lows of Irish high school football.

The record-setting playoff teams of his freshman and sophomore years are cherished memories. Central (0-4) is down on its luck and numbers, with just 16 players scheduled to suit up for Friday’s showdown at winless Southeastern.

The Irish aren’t just losing, they’re being humiliated. Shawnee hung an 82-7 season-opening precursor on Central. The Irish haven’t allowed less than 42 points and have been outscored 230-31. There are three seniors; most are freshmen and sophomores. None of the 11 starters leaves the field.

“The transition … it was pretty hard,” said Luther, the team’s leading rusher who doubles as a linebacker. “It’s taught me a lot, also.”

How did this happen to a proud program that has been guided since 1977 by head coach Steve DeWitt?

Both athletic director Dan Shay and DeWitt are Central grads. Both are determined to help see the school – and football team – recover.

It won’t be easy. Central’s enrollment in grades 9-12 is 91 boys and 77 girls. By comparison, Shay said his graduating class in 1993 was 82. Those Irish football seniors played in a state championship game.

Shay also cited the economic recession, the down-sizing of Navistar, open enrollment of city and county schools and competition from the new private school in town – Emmanuel Christian – as contributing to Central’s regression.

He estimated Central’s tuition at $6-7,000, the greatest it’s ever been.

“We’ve still got the hard-working-class families that are doing everything that they can to get that Catholic education,” he said.

And a supportive alumni base, responsible for much of a $6.5 million addition to the East High Street campus that will eventually house grades 1-12. That consolidation of resources will cap a decade-long goal of kick-starting renewed faith in Springfield’s Catholic education.

DeWitt said he’s never fielded a team so young and inexperienced. Hitting is reserved for Friday nights. Drills are with half lines. Coaches hold dummies throughout practice.

He’s encouraged by a will to persevere and Central’s peewee and junior high numbers. He senses hope. Friday’s Ohio Heritage Conference game could mark a new beginning for either win-starved team.

“Instead of being crucified or nailed to the wall, I’ve received nothing but support,” DeWitt said. “We’ve got the opportunity to teach the kids to deal with adversity. That’s the best challenge.”

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