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Spencer takes over Panthers football program

Ward exits to MSC rival Charlestown

June 11, 2014 | 09:31 AM

Experience and Hall of Fame credentials have taken over the Corydon Central football program.

Last Tuesday, the carousel of coaching changes within the Mid-Southern Conference continued, impacting the Panthers. After previous Charlestown coach Jason Hawkins jumped to the opening at Silver Creek, Corydon Central's all-time winningest coach, Darin Ward, accepted the position to lead the Charlestown program.

As soon as Ward's departure was eminent, Corydon Central moved quickly to fill its void with Hall of Fame coach Mike Spencer.

Last sesaon, Spencer served as an assistant coach for the Panthers, mainly working with linemen.

Familiar to Corydon Central fans, Spencer had plenty of success at Tell City and Perry Central before retiring after the 2011 season.

"I would not be telling you the truth if it wasn't an exciting situation, because it is," Spencer said. "I've always enjoyed coaching and being on the field. I had a situation toward the end of my career when I retired that I wanted to leave the program I was in, in good shape, so it would carry on. There was a good staff set in place at Perry Central and a good group of seniors coming back, so I made that move to retire."

Staying off the sidelines didn't last long for Spencer. When he moved to the Corydon area, Spencer said he would walk the Corydon Central track while football practice was taking place. He just wanted to be close to the game. That is when Ward approached him about coaching.

"When I moved into the community, he said I was officially part of the community and there was no reason for me to not be on the field," Spencer said. "I agreed and got back into it. I really enjoy working with kids. I enjoy the enthusiasm they have and the attitude they carry on the field."

Spencer also has a grandson on the team, Nathan Schmitt, who will be a senior.

Thus far, the transition from Ward to Spencer has been smooth. Spencer met with the team alongside Ward when the previous coach informed the players of his departure.

"I wasn't thinking that would be the transition that would transpire, but I wanted to assure them we weren't going to let them fall through the cracks," Spencer said. "We would continue weight training, and conditioning sessions would stay as it was. We would then see what would happen with the head coaching position."

At last Tuesday's school board meeting, Spencer was hired on a one-year contract. He brings quite a resumé to the Panthers program. He's put together a career record of 204-100, winning many of those games at Tell City and at Perry Central.

His last stint was with the Commodores. In his time there, he went 119-26, winning nearly 10 games per season. Along the way, he has reached two state finals, one each with Tell City and Perry Central, finishing as runner-up.

"I've been very fortunate to have many outstanding players that have played for me over the years," Spencer said. "We were able to put things together, especially at Tell City and Perry Central. They had very successful programs and a lot of that is we had great kids that were willing to work at what they did."

In 2002, Spencer was elected to the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.

Spencer said he loves many aspects of football, particularly overcoming challenges.

"To play football in those difficult conditions — fighting temperatures, fighting humidity in all that gear, down in the dirt — you don't do that to fail, you do that to make a success out of yourself," he said. "There is a lot that goes into that, and I like seeing that come out of kids. I like putting them in situations where they can succeed."

Between the painted lines, Spencer said he wants his team to play sound football.

"We will work hard on tackling techniques and being in the right place at the right time," he said.

As far as offensive and defensive schemes, Spencer said to expect some variations from what the previous staff ran for Corydon Central. The primary reason being the previous coaching staff has switched schools within the conference and sectional.

"We will blend," Spencer said. "We are very fortunate we have kids coming back with experience from last year that will blend in with our younger people that will step up."

One philosophy Spencer hopes to implement is having competition for spots; hopefully, that will lead to three kids having the ability to play two positions.

"We want our best on the field when we need to, but get guys a rest. You better have someone ready," he said.

The current slate of summer workouts will remain the same with some tinkering leading into fall camp. During the course of the summer and camp, players will be introduced to different plays and schemes.

So far, Spencer can see the excitement within the crop of players.

"We just started, but there are kids working hard," he said. "We want that excitement and energy to keep going to put a good product out."

Spencer won't have a reunion of sorts against his former team. Perry Central was replaced on the upcoming schedule with a trip to Southridge. The Panthers will open the season at the Raiders on Aug. 22.

Ward departs for Charlestown

Darin Ward's second stint as head football coach at Corydon Central ended last Tuesday when he was named to the same position at Charlestown, a fellow Mid-Southern Conference school.

Ward's first go-around at Corydon Central went from 2001 to 2003. Taking over a program that posted back-to-back 0-10 seasons, Ward ended the string with a 3-7 mark in 2001. The next two years, the Panthers went 9-2 and 8-2.

After five years away with the program, Ward returned in 2009, taking a fledging team that went 1-9 the year prior to 7-4.

The most successful season came in 2011 when Corydon Central won the program's first sectional and regional title at the Class 3A level. The Panthers defeated tradition-rich Heritage Hills in the sectional final followed by an overtime thriller against Evansville Memorial in the regional.

Through nine seasons, Ward compiled a 60-27 record.

Ward and Charlestown are slated to play at Corydon Central on Oct. 3.

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