High school football has become more than just a social event Friday nights across the country. It's become a way of life.
Coaches do more than just draw plays in the dirt. They become role models and leaders for the next group of young men and women entering the world as adults.
Things are no different in the state of Oklahoma but they are more difficult. Not because the coaches and players are less talented. Not because a lack of support. There is a lack of funding from the state, though. That is causing coaches, teachers and administrators to look for employment elsewhere. Places like Arkansas.
"Oklahoma teachers and coaches haven’t had a raise since 2008, 2007, nine years so when you can make a short move as close as we are to the border and make $10,000 as a teacher, $20,000 as a coach, that’s kind of a no-brainer," Roland superintendent Randy Wood said.
Wood said his school hasn't been hit too hard by coaches leaving as only one has left to cross the border into Arkansas but he said other schools in eastern Oklahoma hasn't been quite as lucky. Poteau saw Greg Werner leave for Van Buren after leading the Pirates to their first state championship game in more than 50 years.
"You can’t tell me the state of Oklahoma should be 49th in the nation in pay and about to be 50th," Werner said. "It should not be that way but I do know it needs to get fixed because they are losing some great people. Not only coaches but great teachers."
Like Werner, Bryan Pratt left a mid-level head coaching job in Oklahoma to take a 7A job in Arkansas. The new Bentonville West head coach said the decision was tough but, in this case, the grass was definitely green on the right side of the border.
"Instead of it being at the tail end of the budget I think it’s at the top over here," Pratt said. "That’s the way it should be and that definitely shows the way the school systems are run."
Pratt and Werner are two of four head coaches in the 7A-West with Oklahoma ties as Mike Loyd left Grove, Okla. to take over Rogers this season and Bill Blankenship was hired at Fayetteville after a long stint at Tulsa Union before being hired at Tulsa University.
The path isn't being traveled by just coaches to the large schools, though. Stephen Neal was an assistant at Tulsa Union before accepting the head coaching position at Pea Ridge this spring. The move for Neal was about becoming a head coach again but he said the other reasons will also come into play.
"You can’t fault them for what they’re doing.," Neal said. "They’re bettering themselves and bettering their family whether it be through opportunities like myself to be a head or whether it to be a better teaching or coaching opportunities with more money for their family. You can’t blame them for wanting to go."
Now that so many coaches have left Oklahoma already, jobs in Arkansas are becoming more difficult to get for one obvious reason.
"If we have a job opening in Van Buren, half the applicants will be from Oklahoma," Werner said. "That’s just the reality. That’s us being a border town. People are making that move. You hate to say it’s just money but the money is better. The benefits are better. The retirement system is better and just the fact that it’s a more certain situation than what it is in Oklahoma."
One coach who took advantage of that this summer was former Vian head coach Brandon Tyler. He led the Wolverines to 128 wins in 12 seasons but left for an assistant job at Van Buren. Tyler said that there were several reasons for the timing of his move, including the desire to coach at a larger school, but admitted the budget crisis in Oklahoma was always on the back of his mind.
"It's a sad situation right now that the legislators, they can't get it figured out," Tyler said. "You have to do what`s best for your family. Coming over here, just the opportunities for my family. That was the number one thought in my mind was taking care of them. If I can make it better for them, that was my goal. I feel like that was possible coming over here."
Schools across Oklahoma have continued to lose funding from the state and this year is no different. Wood said Roland is receiving $1.6 million less this year than it did six years ago. Next year's outlook doesn't look any better, either, for these coaches.
"It bothers me being a guy that spent so many years over there," Werner said. "It’s sad to see how the legislature and the people there look at their educators and don’t take care because there are so many good people over there and it is a sad situation but you can’t blame guys or ladies that are making that trip across the border."