NEWBERRY – As the story goes, the Newberry Wolverines lost their first battle in 1934 when they failed to win enough votes to become the official Newberry High School mascot. But they plan to make a comeback this summer.
Stephen Whitmer, a 23-year-old NHS football alumnus, is co-owner of the Newberry Wolverine Football Club, a new semi-professional football team forming out of Newberry.
He is the current offensive line coach for the NHS varisty football team and played center for the Panther’s varsity squad from 2005 to 2009. He is a former player for Trinity International University based in Chicago and several semi-professional teams that include the Levy County Raiders in Williston, the Racing Raiders out of Wisconsin and currently the Gainesville Gators.
He said that because Newberry was able to bring 1,500 people to each high school game, it fuels the desire for fans to see the same guys who played on Friday, play on Saturday as well -- and he’s not the only one.
Devonte Flagg, a 19-year-old NHS football alumnus, explained that he is just ready to get on the field. “I’m excited,” Flagg said. “I think we’re going to be great.”
Whitmer said that the Wolverines don’t just plan on being an average team.
“I know with bringing myself and Yance Enoch aboard, we’d be able to bring a team to Newberry that we could be proud to show our family,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer and former NHS quarterback Enoch, held an informational meeting at The Blend coffee shop on May 1 for potential players to become familiar with each other and gain an understanding of the new team’s plans.
Tryouts are on June 7, Whitmer said, with the first exhibition game kicking off on Aug. 16 at 3 p.m. at the Easton Sports Complex in Newberry where the Wolverines will take on the Florida Patriots of Tampa . The remainder of the regular-season games might be played at the Newberry High School practice field or another location to be determined.
Brad Carman, director of Parks and Recreation for Newberry, said the Wolverines, “ Have rented the football field area for an exhibition game.”
Whitmer said he’s trying to get the word out about the Wolverines to the community. He has reached out on social media with a Newberry Wolverine Football Club Facebook page that has garnered 426 likes and he represented the Wolverines at Relay for Life and the Spring Fling Festival events. His goal is to get the City of Newberry to sponsor the team.
“Everywhere we go, we get positive feedback,” Whitmer said.
The NHS student government is looking into sponsoring the Newberry Wolverines, according to Whitmer.
NHS teacher Jordan Marlowe, a sponsor of student government association, said that they might find a way to sponsor the team or at least help them find other sponsors.
“The Newberry High School student government association is looking into ways to help the Newberry Wolverines,” Marlowe said. “I think it has potential to be a positive impact on the community for some good family fun.”
Whitmer said that being sponsored would be a big step for the team.
“Ideally, we would love to get sponsored totally for $10,000,” Whitmer said. “That would allow us to get buses for away games, and allow us to buy jerseys for the players.”
Whitmer explained that the Newberry Wolverines belong to the United Football Federation, which currently consists of 32 teams. Other semi-professional football leagues in Florida that include the Florida Football Alliance and Elite Amateur Football League consist of about another 30 teams.
“There’s a huge market that not many people are aware of,” Whitmer said.
He is hoping that his coaching experience will translate to helping the players on the Wolverines. “I’m trying to better people. We’re trying to better the community and better the players.”
Whitmer added that he is taking his past experiences with semi-professional football teams to ensure that the Wolverines will be a success. He said that he is modeling the Wolverines after the Racing Raiders, a semi-professional team out of Wisconsin.
“They provided accident insurance for the players, paid for all of their home and away travels, paid for uniforms, and overall, they were just a big community,” Whitmer said.
He believes they can raise the $5,000 needed so players don’t get drilled with player fees. Whitmer is relying on community support to make the team a reality.
“With Newberry being such a close-knit community, such a football-driven community, with their support, sky’s the limit for this team,” Whitmer said.
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