Rays on the water: MIA football team goes kayaking to prepare for season

Lance Shearer

On Friday evening, Aug. 28, the Marco Island Academy will take the field for their season opener. So where were they on the preceding Saturday morning? Paddling around.

New head coach Lew Montgomery decided that a little teambuilding exercise was just what they needed, so he took the entire team kayaking in the mangrove tunnels and mudflats behind the Capri Watercraft Park. Montgomery talked to Glenn Livesey, owner and operator of Paddle Marco, and Paddle Marco comped the entire outing for 30-plus players and coaches, along with MIA’s principal and assistant principal.

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Montgomery had an “in” with Livesey. A history teacher at MIA by day, he worked as a kayaking guide for Paddle Marco over the summer, so he knows the waters, is used to wrangling groups of paddlers with varying skill levels, and knew Livesey would be a soft touch for the chance to help out in the community.

The team has been practicing on the field for weeks, in addition to strength training, but Coach Montgomery said Saturday morning was all about teambuilding, a break from regular workouts.

“We’ve been grinding out the X’s and O’s, but today is really just about the bros,” he said, claiming his poetic skills were on a level with Dr. Seuss.

Marco Island Academy’s Manta Ray football team has struggled in the win-lose column in recent years, a fate not atypical for a small school with a student body of “just under 300,” per Principal Melissa Scott. The football team has a couple members over 30, so better than 10 percent of the school’s students play on the team – over 20 percent of the boys.

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They are delighted to have the roster filled out with over 30 students, said Ryan Marie Roberts, director of athletics and activities. “We finished the season with just 15 players last year.”

It has been three years since the Rays notched a win, but Principal Melissa Scott said she has already seen improvement in what the school values most.

“Lew is turning around the culture, truly bringing family and brotherhood onto the team,” she said before heading out to paddle with the team. “He’s already changed the entire program for the better. His passion, enthusiasm and love for the kids are evident.”

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Junior player Chase Berry was assigned to paddle the principal – not the way it usually goes in school – and she said he did an excellent job. Some of the other players, when they had a chance to slip out of their kayaks on the mudflats, indulged in a little horseplay, including splashing, and some impromptu open field, or open-water tackling. And when the kids were working their kayaks through narrow mangrove tunnels, some of them crammed together, creating traffic jams – all in good fun.

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Montgomery has experience coaching at the high school and college level, having served as a graduate assistant coach at Tiffin University in Ohio, his alma mater, and coached high school teams in Ohio and New Mexico. He is assisted by coaches Matt Rice, the offensive coordinator, and line coaches Bill Adams and Kyle Ginther.

The head coach declined to name a starting roster, with one exception. His starting quarterback for the season opener, he said, is Ryan Sweeney. That contest, an away game, takes place August 27 at Canterbury School in Fort Myers, whose student body is twice the size of MIA’s. But Coach Montgomery and the Manta Rays are ready for the challenge.

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If you would like to kayak the mangrove tunnels and mudflats behind Isles of Capri with Paddle Marco, voted #1 kayak tour by TripAdvisor, which provides complimentary photos of your trip, go online to www.paddlemarco.com, or call 239-777-5423.