When Shannon Norfleet took over as principal at Howard a little more than a year ago, one of his goals was to give students an ownership stake in how some aspects of the school were to be handled.
To that end, he wanted to see students become more involved in events at the school as a means to become more invested in the educational process.
He didn’t have to wait long for some of that effort to come to fruition. And Howard’s football team had a lot to do with it.
Despite going 3-6-1 last year, the Howard football team was competitive in most of its games, much more so than in the previous six seasons the school had a varsity program. Students were starting to take notice, to the point where some wanted to put together a fan club.
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Norfleet was quickly sold on the idea. The HuskoGang was born.
“It began organically with the students themselves wanting to do it,” Norfleet said. “I was very deliberate with wanting to raise the school spirit and the pride of this school over the last two years, but it really has been the students pulling the weight on this.
“They came to me and asked if (the name) was OK, and I said, ‘Hey, you guys came up with the name, it’s your group. Go with it.’ They did that, and they came up with their own logo, they’ve been selling stickers for cars, they’ve been tailgating at games. They have been really increasing the attendance of students at games. More students want to become a part.”
The HuskoGang has been part of what has been a complete turnaround of the football program at Howard. A team that had never won more than three games in a season is 4-0 heading into Friday’s GHSA Region 2-AAAA opener against West Laurens at the Ed DeFore Sports Complex.
The team has become a rallying point for the school. More students are taking notice, and the community at large is starting to pay attention to the school located on the far north side of Macon-Bibb County.
“We have folks who don’t have kids here that are starting to see what’s happening here, and they’ve been to all of our ballgames,” head coach Barney Hester said. “We’re excited about it. We’d like to get more people. We’d like to see if we can’t get half of that stadium there full with Howard people. We’re very close to breaking through this thing, and we just need a great showing this week of people and a great showing from our football team.”
After dropping several close games last year, Howard has stepped things up a bit this season. The Huskies opened with a nine-point win over Lamar County following a tie on the road in 2014, then pulled away in the second half to beat FPD by three touchdowns at Five Star Stadium after losing to the Vikings last year at FPD.
Howard had a nailbiter against a much improved Central squad on Sept. 4, escaping with a 30-29 victory, then the Huskies rolled to a 34-point win two weeks ago over Rutland before taking last week off.
Now, with region play beginning against a 3-1 West Laurens team that played unbeaten Westside to within a field goal two weeks ago, the games start becoming more important.
“Now, those four wins were exciting. They’re good,” Hester said. “But we’d trade all four of them for the next one. It’s always that next one that matters. The first region game is the most important game for us right now.
“Our kids are starting to believe that they can win. We’ve been down in two ballgames and have come back to win. You don’t do that if you don’t believe that you can.”
The classmates of Howard’s football players are believing, too.
The HuskoGang has become quite active in the life of the Howard football program. The group is making banners, organizing themes for game nights and backing the team as they try to build a bit of a tradition at the school that has been open for less than a decade.
“This is the best year I’ve had at Howard,” said senior Garrett King, one of the HuskoGang organizers. “The football team has just brought a lot of life to this school.”
The players are taking notice.
“It’s good to see everybody supporting us and what we’re doing and seeing everybody there in it with us,” senior quarterback Courvoisier King said.
Norfleet said the entire experience has had a positive effect on the mood of the school and the entire educational process.
Hard data on attendance rates, discipline and test scores will come later, but Norfleet said there’s anecdotal evidence that positive things are happening.
“Students that want to be at school, that want to be part of the school, will behave better,” Norfleet said. “When they take ownership of the school, they develop pride, and then they start talking better about the school. They start behaving better at school. They start to see the value of doing the things we want them to do so they can continue to be a part of the school.”