By ANDY WOLF
KANSAS — Even the gritty, hard-hitting game of football has its moments of grace.
Whether it’s players tiptoeing down the sidelines or leaping over the pile into the end zone, a certain finesse is required.
Yet it won’t be confused for a ballet recital any time soon.
Just ask the Lakota Raiders.
First-year head coach Troy Albright has implemented ballet as a workout regimen for his players.
“Once you get past the word ballet, you realize we’re not putting tutus on and dancing around,” Albright said.
What they are doing is a series of stretches followed by lines of various ballet-related movements.
Practices are once a week and are instructed by Sam Lagrou-King.
The idea initially stemmed from Albright’s time as defensive coordinator at Fremont Ross the past two years.
There he noticed his players were lacking flexibility and weren’t able to efficiently open their hips.
At the time, Lagrou-King’s husband was on the Little Giants’ junior high football coaching staff.
Albright suggested the idea to then head coach Craig Yeast who made the ultimate decision to let his players try it out.
“The first part is: I just wanted to see them move better and be more athletic with their movement,” Albright said. “Secondly, was injury prevention. If you can stay healthy, you’ve got a better shot.”
Lagrou-King practiced ballet at the Fremont Ballet School since she was five-years old and taught younger girls throughout high school, graduating from Ross in 2010.
She still takes adult classes, in addition to wearing various hats as the Ross cheerleading coach and the head boys and girls tennis coach at Fremont St. Joseph.
As Albright was hired to coach the Raiders in January, he was also an assistant for the Raiders’ track and field team.
There he and Lagrou-King implemented ballet regularly for the athletes who benefited from a decreased injury percentage.
“They really do compliment each other,” Lagrou-King said of football and ballet. “They don’t realize it. It adds a little bit of grace to their step. It’s easier to run. Their arches are better. Their posture is better.”
Albright wasted no time getting his football players involved during July workouts.
While several players could see the benefits before trying, Albright and Lagrou-King noticed some tentativeness within players during the beginning practices.
“The first couple were scared, very nervous,” Lagrou-King said. “But then they took to me really well and the kids have always been awesome. The coaches have been super supportive.”
It’s not to be considered by Albright as having an edge over other teams.
But the goals and results are clear.
Albright currently has a roster of 38 players, small even for a Division VII school.
“Ballet was just one of those ‘let’s give it a try,” Albright said. “We stuck with it and what we noticed, after about the sixth week was the kids’ range of motion and balance had really begun to improve. That in turn was helping with injury. It’s an ugly place on the bottom of the pile.”
Raiders senior offensive lineman Zack Stewart knows all too well what goes on under the average pile.
He’s already been able to notice a difference.
“In the piles, people try twisting legs and ankles, so (with ballet) you won’t get injured,” Stewart said. “You’re more flexible so your muscles bend more.”
Stewart also cited less cramping.
“Against Arcadia my sophomore year, we had so many cramps and that really affected the results of the game,” Stewart said as the Raiders were outscored 20-0 in the fourth quarter of a 29-28 defeat.
Senior running back Andrew Koerper has seen it translate to his positional duties.
“At a running back spot, our legs need to be more wide open, stretched out so we can get out and go faster in open space,” Koerper said. “It helps us get our lunges out there.
“Whenever I plant to make a move, I notice I can plant my hip one way and then twist and go another way much faster.”
Like Stewart, Koerper has seen it help with contortion in various piles as twisted limbs don’t hurt as much.
Neither player had any negative connotations with the initial thought of ballet.
Both saw the benefits of stretching and flexibility.
“It’s the stamina thing,” Lagrou-King said. “Their muscles get so tight, especially with it being so hot.”
Albright considers Lagrou-King as a member of his coaching staff, labeling her the “stretch coach”.
“The unknown is scary,” Lagrou-King said. “Football you know you’re going to hit people. Ballet is something a lot of people haven’t ever experienced. I’m glad I got to bring it here.”
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Prep Football: Ballet keeps Lakota team on its toes
By ANDY WOLF