Saturday, Nov 22, 2014
Springstead

Starting up from 'square one'


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To best understand where the current Springstead football program is situated, perhaps it's best to look back at its modest beginnings.

The Eagles' gridiron program is approaching middle age - turning 38 this season - behind its eighth mentor, an SHS alumnus, Mike Garofano.

The Spring Hill program's first-ever coach was a Brooksville product who had never served as a gridiron head coach.

Edward Lee Chester, or Ed, as his friends call him, can commiserate with the growing pains associated with developing a football program from scratch like Weeki Wachee, Nature Coast Technical and Central did after SHS. After all, reminds Chester, the Eagles started at square one.

Coach Chester was born and raised in Brooksville. Chester, 70, still resides in Brooksville with his wife of 40 years, Ethel.

Ed was a fixture in the Hernando County School District for 33 years. His wife was also an educator, served locally for 28 years.

Chester graduated from Moton High in Brooksville in 1961. He followed his former coach at Moton to St. Augustine College in Raleigh, North Carolina.

After Chester played offensive and defensive end for the Falcons, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in health and physical education.

Upon graduation he served as an attendance officer in the local Raleigh school district for two years before relocating to Bowling Green, N.C., where he landed a high school job coaching football and basketball for two seasons.

He relocated back to Brooksville in 1970 and two years later crossed paths with Ethel - his senior prom date from Moton. In July 1972 the Moton graduates married. They've been inseparable ever since

According to Chester, the reasons why their marriage has thrived is "we have so many things in common; we both pretty much wanted the same things, and her patience.

"Raising a family and coaching are tough. She liked sports but she was more dedicated into seeing that our kids were taken care of - that was her first priority. Through thick and thin, she hung in there. She always stood beside me."

The Chesters raised three children who all graduated from Springstead.

Their only son, Ed Jr., was a brilliant three-year starter at defensive tackle under skipper Bill Browning, and a two-time second-team All-American at the University of Florida under Steve Spurrier.

"Little Ed" Chester, who suffered through two serious knee injuries, is invariably at the center of discussion on the county's finest-ever football player along with Hernando High's Jerome Brown, George Floyd and Ricky Feacher, and Central's Tyron Goodson and DuJuan Harris.

Coach Chester was teaching physical education at Hernando High when Springstead was being erected.

On why he never served as a head coach at HHS, "At the time, we had coaches that were established," explained Chester. "They were there before I got there. I felt like I had to wait my turn."

When Springstead's construction began, he bolted at a chance to become a football head coach. It came with a heavy price tag.

The Eagles began as a junior varsity program in 1974-75 before morphing into a varsity program.

"Back then, every day was a struggle," detailed Chester. "We definitely started at square one, plus we were in double sessions at the time.

"Our varsity practices began at six in the morning at Hernando and then our kids went into double sessions until Springstead was completed," noted Chester.

"Today when they build a school, they've got a gymnasium, a track, locker rooms and weight room facilities already in place," he pointed out. "Back then everything was done piecemeal. Everything was done one step at a time.

"Heck, we used to practice at Hunter Lake until we could practice at the school. It was tough on everybody."

Once the first-year varsity program took the field, SHS was rolled in its first-ever game on Sept. 17, 1976 by visiting Frostproof, 62-0.

Though it was considered a "home" game, the Eagles called Hernando High's Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium home until Booster Stadium was completed the following season.

Frostproof was a puzzling first-game choice. The Bulldogs were two seasons removed from capturing the Class 1A state title over Branford, 24-3.

"We were looking for a 1A team to play," recalled Coach Chester. "Picking Frostproof was a mistake."

A week later, Chester's club celebrated the school's first-ever win in Brooksville against Orlando-Luther, 14-6.

"It was a great celebration," shared Coach Chester. "We had a lot of gutsy, little rascals. We talked all week about becoming the first Springstead team to win a game. We forgot the 62-0 and concentrated all week on winning."

That first 2-7 season closed on the road in Hillsborough County at Robinson High, dropping a 50-7 verdict to Tampa-Berkeley Prep.

The following season, SHS improved to 4-6 defeating Luther (31-0), Orlando-Heritage Prep (48-0), Berkeley Prep (16-14) and Lake Highland Prep (12-0).

Alas, SHS christened Booster Stadium on a down note dropping its first-ever game in the facility to Orlando-Trinity Prep (28-13).

Initially, sod was placed on top of sand at Booster Stadium. When Chester learned about that decision, clay was substituted as the foundation before the sod was laid down.

"Thank goodness we didn't play on a sand-based surface," said Chester. "Ever try cutting or making moves on sand? Yeah, that's all we needed."

In Chester's final season in 1978, the Eagles captured the season opener at Bushnell, solving the South Sumter Red Raiders in overtime, 7-0. After that, SHS dropped its next nine tilts.

"Looking back, I really don't have any regrets," stressed Chester, who finished 7-22 in three seasons at the helm. "I knew going in that it would be a struggle. We had a group of kids that weren't fully equipped to play, who started virtually with nothing. Thank goodness we had parents who were willing to stick by us from square one."

On flipping the calendar's pages, "There's no comparison with what Weeki Wachee or anyone else has today with us," said Chester. "The kids these days are bigger, faster and stronger thanks to all the facilities at hand. Back in our day, if you were a big fellow, you were a lineman period. Now, you might not only carry the ball, but you might catch it, as well.

"The greatest advancements have come with the equipment revolution in the game," added Coach Chester. "All the pads, helmets and everything else are more durable and are all much lighter."

"More importantly when they build a school now there's a gym, a track, a weight room, and locker rooms in place. I see middle schools now that were better equipped to play than we were."

These days, Coach Chester stays active with his church, First United Methodist in Spring Hill, or stays busy with the Brooksville Kiwanis Club, or fishing with his son or even learning the game of golf.

"When I was in high school," described former Hernando High tennis coach and Springstead graduate Teri Sellers, "Ed Chester was a great teacher and then a terrific administrator. He's like a father figure to a lot of us.

"More than anything, Coach Chester is a good person. I still see him doing good deeds with the Kiwanis Club. The bottom line, he's a wonderful person."

To this day, Chester has never questioned his intent of coaching football at SHS.

"The game of football shadows the game of life," he insists. "You learn about the intangibles that are needed to become good citizens and products in any community; you learn about mental toughness, the will and determination needed to win, the persistence that's needed, and all the teamwork, bonding and academics involved with getting from Point A to Point B."

As far as his coaching stamp, "I wanted to develop good citizens and people to become a part of our community. It's funny, but because of all the social media available now like Facebook and LinkedIn, a lot of the kids I coached still stay in touch and tell me how much playing football at Springstead helped impact their lives for the better."

Ironically, Chester's starting quarterback was "a scrawny, but tough" J.P. Mahla. Thirty-eight year later, Mahla's youngest son, Tyler, is a three-year starter under center and is a senior under Coach Garofano.

"That's one of the fringe benefits of our profession is seeing the torch passed from father to son," said Coach Chester. "J.P. was a heck of a scrappy player for me, just like Tyler is now for Coach Garofano. He definitely passed on his mental toughness to his kids."

Despite the grains of sand pouring through the hourglass, Springstead's gridiron circle of life continues.

By the numbers: Springstead's Ed Chester

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO

YEAR W L .PCT PS PA

1976 2 7 .222 63 268

1977 4 6 .400 119 196

1978 1 9 .100 59 239

TOT 7 22 .241

By the numbers: Springstead Eagles Football Coaching History

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO

YEARS COACH GMS W L .PCT

1976-78 Chester, Ed 29 7 22 .241

1979 Humphrey, Bill 10 1 9 .100

1980 Knierim, Jay 10 3 7 .300

1981-86 Levija, Bob 59 18 41 .305

1987-95 Browning, Bill 89 49 40 .551

1996-98 McCoy, Pat 23 17 6 .739^

1998-12 Vonada, Bill 154*^ 80*^ 74*^ .516

2013 Garofano, Mike 4 3 1 .750

--38-- --8-- 378 177 201 .468

* Denotes Hernando County record.

^ Denotes school record.

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