Local football teams under new leadership
Chugiak and Eagle River High’s football programs will take the field next season with new head coaches at the helm.
Matt Turner is taking over the Wolves’ program while Roger Spacking will be leading the Mustangs.
Here’s a look at each coach:
Turner is inheriting a Wolves team who went 1-6 in Cook Inlet Conference play this past year.
According to Turner, the team suffers from instability.
Some of this, he said, is unavoidable due to the school’s high military population. Students fluctuate as military families move in and out of the area.
Yet, he’s tired of watching the team lose.
“They’re better than their record shows,” he said.
Turner replaces Jason Brewer, who coached the Wolves for two years before being deployed with his National Guard unit following Week 6 last season.
“Brewer was doing a good job and had them moving in the right direction,” Turner said.
Turner, who teaches social studies at Eagle River High, previously coached the Wolves’ flag football team, and he was instrumental in implementing the program in 2009.
“It was a new challenge,” he said. “The main thing I’ve learned from coaching girls is that you can’t make them do something they can’t do. You have to find out what works for them.”
Turner grew up in the Eagle River community and played football for Chugiak High. He was previously awarded coach of the year status for both track and field and flag football.
“I’ve built two success programs and hope I can find whatever it is they need,” he said. “I plan on being there for a long time and making a name.”
Coaching girls and boys football isn’t that different, he said.
“Both have the same challenges,” Turner said.
His goal is to build up both the program and the athletes. He envisions his team as well-rounded individuals, students who excel not only on the field but also in the classroom.
“We want to go out there and have fun but we want to be successful at the same time,” he said.
Another challenge is battling Chugiak for incoming students.
“It’s one of the hardest things,” Turner said. “We still have a lot of kids that go out to Chugiak instead of where they’re supposed to go.”
He plans on taking trips over to Gruening Middle School and getting students excited about the Eagle River team.
“You have to find what motivates each player, even the ones who aren’t on the top,” Turner said. “You have to not give up on the younger players. They could start off as a 14-year-old and be something special when they grow up.”
Turner hopes to build his team into something special.
“You always want to be part of that first winning team,” he said.
Still, he realizes that there’s more to a successful team than touchdowns and final scores.
“I’m not going to judge our season on winning and losing but taking that first step forward,” he said.
Spackman replaces Duncan Shackelford, who retired at the end of this season after two decades of coaching — 10 at Chugiak and 10 at Dimond.
The Mustangs went 5-4 this year, losing in the first round of the postseason.
Spackman, who previously coached Chugiak’s junior varsity team, grew up in Utah. A physical education teacher at Chugiak, Spackman previously taught and coached football and track at East High for 15 years.
“I really was hoping to get my foot in the door here in Chugiak,” he said. “I live in Eagle River and my wife grew up here so we do have roots.”
Two of Spackman’s children attend Chugiak High and two younger boys attend Fire Lake Elementary. His wife teaches music at Eagle Academy Charter School.
Coaching, he said, offers the opportunity to build long-term relationships with students.
“I feel very fortunate. Coaching is such a joy,” he said. “Teaching school is fun but coaching is another level.”
He anticipates a strong team next year.
“We have a lot of really great guys, and a lot of really good young players,” Spackman said.
While they’re losing a few key players, they’re also retaining their quarterback, many of their running backs and receivers and their kicker, he said.
“It’s always a challenge to fill the holes from graduation,” Spackman said. “It will be fun to see these kids step up.”
While he hopes to put together a winning season, to Spackman, sports is also about developing character.
“It’s about making good choices and being accountable and helping kids build good habits for the rest of their lives,” he said. “That’s the whole purpose of high school sports, to help these kids become good men.”
Besides, being successful isn’t always about winning.
“When I was a senior in high school, we won two games. We just weren’t a very good team. But the lessons we learned have done us well,” he said.
Spackman’s philosophy is to motivate all players, even those who spend much of the game on the bench. Yet he also wants his teams to do its best. He wants every player to give their all. He wants to win.
“I want us to do well,” Spackman said. “I always think we’ll have a winning season.”
Contact Cinthia Ritchie at 694-2727 or [email protected].