Harlan County Middle School names new head coach

Published 3:22 pm Monday, July 1, 2024

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There is a new Black Bear at the head of the Harlan County Middle School Football Program.

Jacob Branson, a longtime fixture in the Harlan County elementary, middle and high school football programs, has been named head coach of the Middle School Black Bear Football Program.

The middle school program encompasses sixth, seventh and eighth graders from the eight feeder schools for Harlan County High School. Fourth and fifth graders participate in the football program sponsored through the Harlan County Pee Wee sports league.

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“I am super excited that Jacob Branson has accepted this position,” said Jacob Saylor, coach of the Harlan County High School Black Bears.

Saylor said continued growth of the middle school program is vital for football in Harlan County.

“I have total confidence in him and that he will run this program the right way, putting the players first,” said Saylor. “He knows what it takes. He has been around it all of his life and he knows what it takes to make a program successful. The middle school program is so vital to the high school in having the right people in place. It is such an important element to success.”

In addition to the coaching announcement, Saylor says the Middle School Black Bears will call Coal Miners’ Memorial Stadium their home field this season as well as his HCHS Black Bears.

“I am thrilled the middle school team’s new home will be at Coal Miners’ Memorial Stadium. They will dress in the locker room where the high school did in the past. Middle school coaches will have an office there. They will practice out there, play out there. This will allow high school coaches to build a relationship with the coaches and players. They will form a bond, and establish trust.”

Saylor said Branson and his team will have access to the weight room, with the middle school and high school teams separated.

The new athletic fieldhouse is providing a lot of new options for the school’s sports programs.

“The middle school kids will have a new home. It is where they need to be. I am elated that this is happening as our new fieldhouse is nearing completion,” said Saylor.

Most importantly, said Saylor, the middle school athletes will be learning the plays of the varsity team.

“We are putting in a brand new offense and defense,” said Saylor, “This allows our high school coaches to be on the field with our middle school coaches. The kids will know them by the time they get to high school.”

Branson agrees, noting that “This will enhance player development now and in the future. This will make a huge difference.”

In anticipation of potential parental concerns, Saylor and Branson stressed that the high school coaching office will serve as a barrier to separate the two teams.

Branson said the first day of practice will be on Wednesday, July 10th. Time and bus schedules will be announced.

He said student athletes needing transportation and planning to ride the buses should reach out to him through email at Jacob.Branson@harlan.kyschools.us or via Facebook Messenger.

Branson said playing in the high school stadium is a wonderful opportunity for his team, recalling his time spent there as an HCHS student-athlete. He says they will get a sense of pride for the traditions at an earlier age than he did.

He has been involved with athletics, coming up through the Pee Wee league, elementary, middle school, and high school freshman, junior varsity and varsity. He played quarterback and corner. He also played safety for the University of the Cumberlands.

In addition to coaching, he will continue to teach Special Education at the high school. He holds degrees in elementary education and in Special Education.

“I am excited for it,” said Branson.” I have some very big, hard shoes to fill following a legend like Scott Caldwell at the helm of the middle school program. It is going to be nice… I work up there. My team will be in a football environment at HC and not having to be at a separate facility than the high school is going to be a lot different, much better for both programs. Being able to be on the field that they will perform on in high school is huge Many schools already do this. It is really important.”

Branson said the “community needs these younger kids to come out and play to keep that identity as a football town alive…I plan to work hand in hand with our high school program. We will visit the middle school kids to encourage them to be a part of our program. At the end of the day, football is the heart of the mountains.”

He encouraged parents to talk with their children about participating because football is about much more than scoring touchdowns and making tackles.

“A lot of these kids need football for life lessons, comradery, exercise, the brotherhood, and a whole lot of other reasons,” he said.

He recommends those planning to play to obtain required sports physicals prior to the first day of practice.

For those interested, the Daniel Boone Clinic will offer free sports physicals from 10 a.m. to 2 pm. on June 25th.

He noted that he will be announcing a parent meeting in the next few days.