CAIRO — It’s been a case of so far, so good through the first week of preseason practice for the merged Cairo-Durham and Catskill football programs.
First-year head coach Dan Hatch has been running the team through early morning practices and likes what he’s seen so far.
“The camaraderie already between the players is great,” Hatch said. “We did the Ravena camp, we did the 7 on 7, we did some combines together and these kids are tight, real tight. A lot of them play other sports against each other, like baseball and basketball, and they all get along great. All respectful young men, you always have a couple of knuckleheads that you have to rein in, but, overall, I’m very optimistic for the season. Now do I have rose colored glasses on? Absolutely not. But we’re going to surprise some people this season.”
The numbers are solid across the board, with 27 players competing for jobs — 20 from Cairo-Durham and seven from Catskill.
“I’m optimistic for the season,” Hatch said. “We have a lot of talent on the team. The last five years we had an average of 24-25 kids, but out of those kids, we’d have maybe five freshmen, two sophomores that never played, a junior that never played and we had like two athletes. Now we have the talent all the way around, on the line, backs, quarterback, receivers, that the other teams can never focus on just one or two players, to shut them down and it shuts our team down. If they do that now they’re in trouble.”
Hatch is thrilled to be taking over as head coach after serving five years as an assistant with the Mustangs.
“I’ve been dreaming of being a head coach forever, but for me it’s all about the boys,” Hatch said. “It’s all about the young men and it’s not always about football. It’s about life lessons. You make a commitment and you have to stick to that commitment like in the real world. We have some talented kids all the way around the board. Are there some works in progress? Absolutely. We have ones that haven’t played before that have the dedication and desire to learn and give 110 percent.”
So far, the biggest challenge Hatch and his staff have faced has nothing to do with getting the new players to mesh, it’s with travel logistics. Something that all merged teams have to deal with.
“We play our games at the Cairo Town Park, so getting the kids from Catskill up to either the town park or up to Cairo-Durham High School was a catch, but that’s getting worked out,” Hatch said. “But not having one home school to go to is probably the biggest challenge. It’s more of a neutral location at the town park. It’s all logistical. The ground rules were set straight, there are team rules that were combined between the school Athletic Directors and coaches. As far as the kids go, you always have that clash of personalities, especially from the ones that have never played the game before and want to clown a little bit. But that was squelched in the first two days.”
While the numbers for the varsity team are solid, the interest is even greater at the modified level with 51 kids signed up.
That bodes well for the future of both schools.
“The numbers are great at the modified level, but we also have Greene County Pop Warner,” Hatch said. “We have so many modified kids that it doesn’t make any sense to keep them all on modified, so we’ll be able to place some of them back on Pop Warner and work with them on an offense and a defense that works all the way through the program. The future looks bright now that we’ve been able to merge the programs.
“There will be some big, athletic freshmen that we’ll notice and probably bring on to the varsity side. What we don’t want to do on the modified side is to run other teams over. It’s a learning experience first for all the districts. We don’t want to leave five athletic superstars that could play varsity on modified. It just would not be good for anybody’s program.”
Hatch hasn’t conveyed any season goals to his team yet, but would certainly like to see them snap what is currently the state’s longest losing streak at 29 games.
“I want them to focus on learning the game, learning their positions, finding out who is going to be playing what because in my program there are no locked in positions,” Hatch said. “If somebody wants a position they go after it, but my personal goal as coach is to be at .500 this year. We have not won a game in five years and if we win two games, that’s two more wins than we’ve had the last five years.”
Cairo-Durham/Catskill will participate in a four-way scrimmage at Corinth on Aug. 25, then kick off the regular season with a home game against Greene County rival Coxsackie-Athens on Sept. 1.