NEW PALESTINE — Who says nothing good ever comes out of losing?
The game is one New Palestine Dragon football players, coaches and their fans will never forget — the last-second 64-61 loss to Fort Wayne Snider in the Class 5A State Finals last fall.
A game like that can have the potential to either make or break a program.
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For the Dragons, they plan to live and learn from the heartbreaking defeat with the hopes of getting back to the championship game as soon as possible.
The way the Dragons will respond on the field after the loss remains to be seen.
However, under the leadership of coach Kyle Ralph, the team’s immediate response, to use the loss as motivation, has gained national recognition.
Thanks to the team’s offseason efforts in the community and weight room, the Dragons are on the verge of signing a contract with Russell Athletics, the business’s first national campaign with a high school program.
The partnership will provide the Dragons national recognition on the company website, commercials, videos and promotions.
Chris Cardetti is the lead creative strategist representing Russell Athletics. He said the company is in the process of re-branding itself and is building a campaign focused on the strategy of team.
“It’s kind of, what does team mean in today’s society and kind of building the next generation of team,” Cardetti said. “The tag line is ‘team-on.’”
The campaign is designed to tell the untold story of a team and find out how they respond from losing a state championship game.
“What really drew us to New Pal was a combination of things, but the primary one was coach (Kyle) Ralph,” Cardetti said. “He is the epitome of what a coach in America is nowadays.”
Not only did Russell Athletics representatives like the Dragons’ play on the field, they were drawn to their offseason workouts and the team community efforts of raising funds for charity and supporting the idea of doing for others.
In return for sharing their story, the Dragons football team will be provided with practice clothing, coaches shirts and new home and away team jerseys, in addition to the national publicity.
The opportunity to sign with Russell Athletics came out of the blue in May when Ralph was contacted by company officials, who were looking for teams that had lost a state championship game by a touchdown or less.
“The goal for their campaign is they were looking to push the side of teams that use the failure of the moment to motivate themselves through an offseason into what will hopefully be another successful campaign the following year,” Ralph said.
Out of more than 100 teams that qualified with a state championship loss by fewer than seven points, the teams were narrowed down to ones which wore Russell Athletic gear. After further research the field narrowed to teams which had a strong team history and recent success.
“They were looking for a program that had been good in the community, would represent their brand well in a place where football means a lot, and what we’re trying to teach our young men through football,” Ralph said.
The Dragons were selected as a top-10 finalist. After multiple phone interviews with Ralph, the Dragons were selected as a top-three finalist. That’s when a group of officials from Russell Athletics and Robert Clark, the photographer who worked on the book “Friday Light Nights,” visited New Palestine High School and the community.
It was shortly after that the Dragons were selected as the team the company wanted to work with during a year-long campaign.
“This actually is a big, big deal,” Ralph said. “We’re really excited to be partners with them.”
More than anything Ralph is proud of his team’s offseason efforts and how his players impressed Russell Athletic officials during their visit.
“They said to me, ‘Coach it just seems like your kids expect to win, not that they’re entitled, but they work like winners,’ and I’m very proud of that,” Ralph said.
Officials from Russell Athletics will be visiting the Dragons during the third week of July to start work on commercials and other advertising promotions with the team. Filming crews will be in town when Dragon football players are scheduled to work with special needs students from Camp Ability, Tuesday, July 19.
Athletics Director Al Cooper is looking forward to not only seeing how the company promotes the team, but all the good things the players and coaches stand for.
“The biggest factor is being able to do more than just win games on the field,” Cooper said. “That’s not what they are talking about.”
Russell Athletic officials loved the Dragons story and attitude of having to overcome moving up a class level. School officials are excited for the opportunity and are looking forward to seeing what all the partnership entails.
“It’s really a great honor that they kind of sought us out,” Cooper said. “They’ve recognized what we’re trying to do here.”
The team is looking forward to getting new uniforms, and Ralph said his wife, Ashley, is thrilled all the coaches will have matching shirts on the sidelines for once.
In typical Ralph fashion, he was eager to put talk of the deal behind him and get his team on a bus headed for an offseason scrimmage.
“While the guys will love the new jerseys, you could put our guys out there in trash bags and they’d play hard out there,” Ralph said with a laugh. “We’re just looking to get better each day and get ready for that first game against Whiteland.”