The high school program, put on hold last summer, gets the go-ahead to return
King’s Way Christian football is running a reverse, rallying to return to varsity action this fall.
Less than a year from putting the high school football program on pause — a plan that was expected to last a few seasons — the school is giving varsity a go once again.
Arne Kainu, the school’s interim athletic director, confirmed Wednesday that the Knights will be playing an independent varsity schedule in 2021.
“We have a lot of interest in our students wanting to play football. To not have a program is a detriment. It’s a detriment to them,” Kainu said. “We want to create a well-rounded experience. Co-curricular activities are a huge part of a well-rounded educational experience.
“The interest has warranted getting the program restarted sooner than later,” he added.
“We’re all excited. We’re pumped,” said coach Nick Mancillas, who was hired last summer to reboot the program starting at the middle school level. “To take any opportunity away from kids is never a good idea, even though I understood the thought process behind it. We’re excited. We’re energized. Everyone involved is all-in. We’re just pumped to get it started.”
This marks quite the change from the school’s announcement last July, under the previous athletic administration. After years of struggling to build the participation numbers, the school put football “on pause” at the varsity level. The plan was for no high school football for two years, with a focus on building from the middle school level, then returning with a junior varsity program at the high school in Year 3 of the reboot. Varsity football was not expected to be back until the fourth year — 2023.
“It was a bit of a surprise, and then disappointment,” Kainu said of the initial reaction from the King’s Way community. “We had enjoyed some very great experiences on Friday nights under the lights.”
There was understanding, as well. For many years of the program’s existence, there were concerns about participation numbers.
A year later, though, the mindset is to offer the sport at the highest level. Yes, building a program is a priority, but it can be done with a varsity team, school leaders agree.
“At King’s Way, we want to create a great athletic experience,” Kainu said, listing the boys and girls sports the school already offers.
“We want them to have a great and meaningful experience that enhances their education. Football is an important part of that.”
The school did have a middle school program during this recent pandemic season. In all, 27 seventh- and eighth-graders were on the roster. The team played two games. There were 13 eighth-graders on the squad, and 12 of them have said they will go out for football at the high school.
“They’re just a bunch of hungry kids ready to be kids and just play and experience whatever they can,” Mancillas said.
Before this season, only two of those players had any organized football experience. Mancillas said the idea was to introduce them to the game, to “plant a seed of love for this sport.”
With a dozen saying they will keep playing, that means Mancillas and his staff did just that.
The sudden return to varsity football was a bit a surprise to the Trico League, as well. Kainu met online with athletic directors this week.
“They are very supportive of King’s Way restarting football at the varsity level,” Kainu said.
However, the football schedules were built with the idea that the Knights would not have a team this year.
So instead of playing a league schedule, the Knights are in the process of filling out an independent schedule.
“That work began, literally, today,” Kainu said Wednesday afternoon.
The hope is to get seven, eight, or even nine games.
“We’ll take whatever games we can get,” Mancillas said.
Mancillas, who is a teacher at Camas Christian Academy, already has his staff of assistant coaches.
“They’re excited about the rebirth of football at King’s Way, and they wanted to help out in any way that they could,” Mancillas said.
For this year, it is about establishing a foundation.
The expectations for the players, though, will be the same every year:
“Compete at the highest level, compete with everything you’ve got, with every ounce of your being,” Mancillas said. “We’re looking to really set King’s Way up for success in the long run.”
That comes with the understanding that this first year back will have some growing pains. There is no junior varsity program — yet — so that means a lot of young players on varsity.
“We’re looking to be a young team, but with that comes a lot of experience,” the coach said. “I’m from the mentality we’ll play anyone, anywhere, any time. We’ll show up and we’ll win, or we’ll learn.”
This is the start of something special, the coach said.
“Teams are going to look at King’s Way in a different light by the time we’re done,” Mancillas said.