OLFEN — If you travel south on U.S. Highway 83 from Ballinger about nine miles down the road, you will come to County Road 234. Take a right onto that nondescript county road and travel two miles over bumps while dodging potholes, passing between fields of cotton and coastal grass. Soon you’ll arrive at the Olfen Independent School District buildings. The district administrative offices along with the elementary, junior high and high school, are all housed in the buildings located there, education surrounded by farmland Americana. While the school might be small, it has a big heart and they’re getting better across the academic board each year as proven by their state scores and various awards.

They also have an athletics program that is growing larger every school year as well.

This year, Olfen will play junior varsity six-man football, with a combined junior high and high school class. While their games are “pick up games” with other schools such as Eden, Paint Rock, Water Valley, Lohn and Brookesmith, they are played with just as much fervor as their Class 2A, 3A and 5A neighbors.

“When the players hit the field they are ready to play every down,” Olfen head coach Tim Parks said.

While Parks’ title is head coach, he’s more of an athletic director, overseeing all of the sports that the Olfen ISD is part of. The other sports include girls and boys cross country, volleyball, junior high basketball and boys and girls track.

Their football program does not have a varsity so they are not assigned a district by the UIL. That does not stop Parks from finding games for them to play. He personally contacts coaches at other schools to set up the games. There is no schedule for their games, no hype leading up to kickoff, no trainers and no staff of a dozen assistant coaches pacing the sidelines and pulling their hair out after every penalty, called or uncalled.

Their program is simple but when the players hit the field they put their heart into it. When you build something from the ground up you need a 100 percent commitment from everyone involved and Parks gets that from his players and from his assistant coach, Mark Pittman.

Pittman runs routes with the players, teaches them how to block and pushes them to be better as he plays the “bad cop,” while Parks calmly instructs the players and corrects them when they don’t execute a play correctly. As one player ran a route Pittman told him he wasn’t going fast enough so Pittman played defensive back on the next play and stayed close to the player. The young athlete ran almost twice as fast as he had on the previous play and caught the ball on a crossing route — 100 percent commitment. The player walked back to the line with a smile on his face and with a little more confidence in himself.

The team is in the process of receiving new uniforms and equipment.

“Our helmets were nine years old,” Parks said. “They expire after 10 years so we replaced them.”

Olfen was completely out of football for five years before they picked it up again in 2017. Parks’ goal is to continue building a team and working with them.

“Eventually we want to have a varsity team and get into a district with other schools,” Parks said. “Competition only makes us better.”

Olfen players don’t have after school practices, instead they use the last period of their school day as their practice time and usually get in 45 minutes of practice. While that may not seem like much time for a football team, Parks and Pittman fill every second of that 45 minutes with skills work and play execution. They do not have the luxury of rotating players in and out for breaks, or of making five minute “come to Jesus” speeches after a blown play. The vibe is always positive, always building up, never tearing down.

Parks wants to build momentum for the team and welcomes the community into the fold.

“I would love to see the community get involved with our program,” Parks said. “We want to get them involved.”

Parks does more than just coach the athletes, he also paints the lines on the football field himself and handles a hundred other chores with Pittman helping out. Some members of the community helped the school put a fresh coat of paint on the facilities at the field earlier this summer.

Six-man football is fast paced action as Parks notes.

“In most of the games, both teams score at least 45 points and sometimes up into the 60-point area,” he said.

Every player on the team is a multi-role player. With only 15 kids on the team, players will play defense, offense and special teams.

“Our biggest push is keeping the kids motivated when they come to the sideline,” Parks said. “Conditioning is the most important part of our brand of football.”

The heart of their program involves the older kids helping the younger kids.

“We pair up the older kids with the younger ones so that they can help them,” Parks said. “We pair up a kid that might not be good in an area, such as running, with an older kid who is a good runner. That builds teamwork.”

Indeed, as I stood there talking to the coach an older student was helping a younger student with putting on his shoulder pads while telling him how important it is to make sure his chinstrap is always snapped. He wasn’t yelling at him like a drill sergeant or like some seniors do when addressing freshmen at other schools, he was just quietly helping the younger player and giving him advice, more of a mentor than anything else.

Parks and Pittman let the kids work out their differences and by doing that it builds a strong team. Parks pointed four players out to me that were brothers.

“It isn’t just their family, the whole team is a family,” Parks said. “We’re all family here, in athletics and in the classroom. We stress that and we work things out together.”

The program is getting stronger and Pittman is helping Parks in all aspects.

“We’re trying to build something great here,” Pittman said. “The sports programs give the kids an opportunity to participate and compete. The school has not had this much participation in our sports programs before this year. But, while sports are great, the number one mission in the school remains academics.”

While we’re talking, Parks sends the players to run a lap around the field. One kid is the last one to make the turn back toward us at the other end of the field, but he isn’t alone, there are two older players running with him. Then another player runs over and joins them to cheer the younger student on. Pretty soon there is another player there and they all cross the finish line, but the older kids ensure the younger one crosses the finish line first. The coaches didn’t tell them to go do that, the kids did it on their own because Parks and Pittman are building something bigger than themselves and bigger than just their football program, they’re building a team and the future, one practice and one pickup game at a time.

If you’d like to find out more about the Olfen athletics and their football program, you can contact coach Tim Parks at 325-442-4301.