Coach Plumlee

MHS head football coach JD Plumlee has led the team to victory consistently since he returned in 2018, and expectations are high for the 2022-23 Malvern Leopard team.

The Malvern Lions Club invited Malvern High School’s head football coach, JD Plumlee, to speak at their weekly meeting Tuesday afternoon at the First Baptist Church Family Life Center.

Plumlee was there to talk about the stand-out players who will be taking the field for the Leopards this 2022-23 football season, as well as some big changes teams in the 7-4A Conference have faced in the past year—and are still set to tackle in the upcoming season (pun intended.)

Plumlee has coached in various capacities at school districts all around the state for over 18 years. He previously served as Malvern’s assistant head coach in 2013 under former head coach Mike Scarborough.

Plumlee left the head coach position at Fountain Lake four years ago to return to the Malvern coaching staff in the lead role, and the Leopards moved from a 0-10 season in 2018 to making the playoffs every year since. As such, the players, the coaches, and the community at large have high hopes, and even higher expectations, for the Leopard football team this year.

“I can tell you that JD is a fine fellow and a good Christian man,” fellow MHS employee and Lion Club member, Pat Daniel, said when inviting Plumlee to the podium. “And I’m just thankful that he’s here at Malvern High School and that we have coaches like him working with the kids here—and it’s not just all about football with these guys, but he’s a heck of a good football coach,”

“We are excited about the program, the team,” Plumlee said. “There’s not many of us, we’ll dress about 41 or 42. The numbers are down a little bit.”

Numbers aside, Malvern still has enough talent to put 11 winning players on the field, but other teams in the division decided to switch to eight-man teams at the end of last school year.

“Last spring was very challenging,” Plumlee said. “For the first time ever, our conference changed, and now with this eight-man football league is really growing.”

Plumlee addressed the fact that Fountain Lake and Genoa Springs both decided to make the switch to eight-man teams, which leaves only six teams remaining in the 4A-7 division and puts Malvern down two games in the upcoming season.

Malvern is now set to host only three home football games this year, which  potentially affects revenue, morale and the overall spirit of the game that has been a point of pride and a celebration every season for the entire Malvern community.

Plumlee said some districts make the switch to eight-man teams purely for competitive advantage, even if they have plenty of available players, but he wasn’t referring specifically to Fountain Lake or Genoa Springs.

Regardless, the change will mean fewer opportunities for local residents to catch a home game on Friday night, fewer dollars in the MHS coffers to benefit the district, and fewer good times for the senior students who were looking forward to participating in the games and related activities.

“What it did to our seniors, and cheerleaders, and band, season ticket holders, is that it only gave us three home games this year,” Plumlee said. “And financially it hurts you, too.”

Plumlee noted that the teams who made the switch did so in their best interest, but those decisions unavoidably impact every team in the division. Fewer games can sap the motivation or dampen the spirits of some players, and he said it’s a hard sell when you have less games to look forward to.

“I understand, they’re worried about themselves, but then it trickles down,” Plumlee said. The change will not affect the junior high team schedule, but Plumlee said he feels for the seniors.

Plumlee treats his players like extended family and wants the best for them, both on the field and in the real world after high school. He tries to be a reliable support and a good Christian example to the players under his wing, many of whom are facing serious issues like food insecurity and other burdens at home.

“I spend a lot of my time, probably 80 percent, off the field doing this other stuff—counseling kids, picking them up, feeding them, you know, they’re calling me at 2 a.m., ‘Coach, I need help’—you know, whatever it is,” Plumlee said. “When my phone rings at 2 a.m., your breath kind of stops for a second, but then you pick it up, and you go help them.”

Plumlee praised the Malvern School District’s administration and faculty for showing genuine care for the students’ situations in the classroom and at home, not just their test scores.

“Malvern cares about the individual and what’s going on, and then what can we do to help you get you where you need to get with your circumstances,” Plumlee said. “That’s why it’s such a special place to me, and I hope I’m here for a long, long time because I see this community rally around the issues at hand.”

Read the full story in Wednesday's Aug. 17 newspaper edition.

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