UPDATED: Judah Christian adding football, wrestling; Albaugh to coach

UPDATED: Judah Christian adding football, wrestling; Albaugh to coach

CHAMPAIGN — Judah Christian wasn’t in a hurry to add a football team. Sure, the school has had a turf field since mid-2015, but superintendent Mike Chitty said the institution was waiting for the proper moment to add a team that could call the Gene A. Salmon Field of Dreams its home.

That time arrived Monday, as Judah officials announced plans to add football and wrestling teams for the 2018-19 school year. Additionally, former Champaign Central football coach Nate Albaugh will lead both Tribe squads.

It’s no surprise Judah went from not necessarily considering the addition of either program at the start of this academic year to confirming their addition just months later. That’s because a major mitigating factor, according to Chitty, was making sure the right person would be in place to guide those teams.

“There has not been any hard-fast timeline on starting programs like football, but we feel like what’s vital to any program at our school is who leads those programs,” Chitty said. “When Coach Albaugh and I began to talk about potential ... it was really a perfect combination and therefore made the timing right.”

The setup suited Albaugh as well. He has a daughter attending Judah and a son who soon will be. He’s also a big proponent of the school’s religion-based offerings.

“I was just in a place in my life where I badly wanted to be involved in a Christian school,” Albaugh said. “One thing led to the next, and they felt I was the person best suited to help lead these programs. I’m very humbled.”

The possibility Judah could add a football program has been on the table since the Gene A. Salmon Field of Dreams was finished in 2015. The facility also includes baseball and softball fields, which are being used by Judah teams, while the Tribe soccer programs already utilize the dual-purpose turf field.

The complex’s location, at the intersection of Rising Road and Kirby Avenue, will be home to Judah’s new school building by the 2019-2020 year as well. Chitty said the cost of running two new athletic programs worked within Judah’s budget, which must also account for costs related to the school’s 12 current athletic squads.

Steam began picking up for the addition of football earlier this school year, when a group of Judah students — Albaugh said there were at least 20 — began circulating a petition expressing interest in playing the sport under the Tribe banner. The IHSA lists Judah’s enrollment at 129, but neither Chitty nor Albaugh is worried about the team’s drawing power.

“We feel very confident we’ll be able to field a team in the fall,” Chitty said. “There’s already a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. We have a number of kids with a lot of talent, and it’s all about giving our kids as many opportunities as possible to grow.”

Scheduling will be another issue off the bat. Chitty said he’s uncertain whether Judah football will be able to set up a full, nine-game slate right away, and he also didn’t indicate what conference alignment might occur for the Tribe. Judah is in the East Central Illinois Conference, which does not have any football teams, but the Tribe could opt to be independent, as Blue Ridge and others have done for football.

Albaugh’s involvement with these new teams comes a little more than two months after he announced he’d be stepping down from his spot at Central following the 2017 campaign. He posted a 26-24 record with the Maroons and cited “the level of stress” among reasons for his departure.

“To tell the truth, I think those were still concerns of mine,” said Albaugh, who has also coached Milford/Cissna Park and Alford. “It does take a toll on you. But when I looked at this opportunity, I just wanted to be involved in the school, and the school felt like I was the best person to take this on. I’m going to toughen up and get through it.”

Chitty said he has no concerns about Albaugh’s recent departure from Central, adding that he feels the coach can more easily balance work and family matters with his children attending Judah.

Both Chitty and Albaugh said the latter’s decision to join forces with the Tribe was based not only on hiring a successful coach, but also adding someone who could establish a certain mindset among student-athletes.

“To have somebody like that on our staff, really what we’re most excited about is what he’ll bring to our school culture beyond football and wrestling,” Chitty said. “His enthusiasm is infectious and rubs off on people.”

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on December 18, 2017 at 4:12 pm
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They've finally achieved their mission. I mean, what's more Christian than football, right?

Lostinspace wrote on December 19, 2017 at 9:12 am

After studying head injuries in football, this seemed the way to go.