Panthers return to Class 2-A for 2022 football season
By Justin Scrimshire
ONL Sports Reporter
There is a universal truth in sports and this year that principle certainly resonates for the Okemah Panthers. Next man up. The Panthers have experienced a lot of success recently with only two district losses in the past two years and multiple visits to the post season.
However, with those season’s leadership graduated from the field, a new era has dawned on the Pecan Bowl as Andrew Swayze, Colton Parish, Blake Gaxiola, Landen Lee, Wyatt Cooper, Conner Stacy, Cameron Swayze, and many others will look to carry the 2022 Panthers to another winning season and a trip to the playoffs.
This year marks Coach Joe Turner’s 14th year as head coach for the Panthers. With 21 total seasons of coaching and an overall record of 165-78, Turner, along with assistant coaches Simmon Harjo, Frank Yazel, Caleb Harjo and Anthony Gaxiola, are preparing the Panthers for a challenging season as Okemah will return to Class 2-A this year.
Due to a daily student average of 185 during last year’s audit, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) bumped Okemah from Class A to Class 2-A for football, despite several other remaining teams in Class A having a daily student average over 185.
Okemah will play the 2022 and 2023 season in Class 2-A, District 5. This district includes Sequoyah-Tahlequah (0-9 last season), Warner (9-2 last season in Class-A), Vian (10-2 last season), Roland (6-3 last season), Henryetta (2-8 last season), Keys (6-4 last season), and Prague (7-4 last season).
Four of the seven district opponents the Panthers will face this year made it the playoffs last season. Warner lost to Stroud in the first round of the Class-A playoffs and Keys, Prague and Vian all made Class 2-A playoff appearances. Keys and Prague were eliminated in the first round and Vian was eliminated in the second round.
The Panthers had a very successful year in Class A during the 2021 season, boasting a 9-2 record. Okemah’s only home loss occurred in the first round of the playoffs in a heartbreaking 53-52 defeat against Colcord.
As the Panthers have begun training for the new year, Coach Turner recognizes this season will have a new look. “There’s opportunities for new guys to step up this year,” said Turner, who also added that he expected to see freshman get a lot of playing time this year.
The Panthers will have two scrimmages prior to the season. Okemah will play in a three-way at Konawa against Konawa and Holdenville on Thursday, Aug 18. The second scrimmage will be a three-way at Bethel against Bethel and Woodland on Thursday, Aug 25. Both scrimmages are set to begin at 6 p.m.
The regular season will begin with a home game on Friday, Sept 2 against Pawnee. The Panthers will have two home games and one road game before district play begins with a road trip against Sequoyah-Tahlequah on Friday, Sept 23. The regular season will conclude with a road trip against Prague on Friday, Nov 14.
Homecoming will be early this year, scheduled for the second game of the season against Wewoka on Friday, Sept 9. Senior night will occur on the regular season home finale against Keys on Friday, Oct 28.
Additionally, a new ruling from the OSSAA will be implemented this year to curb “egregious” behavior at all middle school and high school games sanctioned by the OSSAA. According to the policy, coaches, players, and spectators are included in the new two-strike rule.
The rule states that if a school is cited for two “egregious” unsportsmanlike behaviors during the same season of the same sport, “the team and/or individual will be suspended from participation in that activity for the remainder of the season.” If the second “egregious” behavior is recorded during the final game of the season, the penalty will carry over into the next year.
Scenarios that fall under the “egregious” category are constant verbal attacks on the officials, physically attacking an official, fans attacking other fans at athletic events, coaches verbally or physically berating officials, players fighting another player when shaking hands at the end of a game, and student sections using inappropriate or demeaning chants at a player, team or official during the game.