JOHNSTOWN — Jake Stewart and his Johnstown teammates are thinking the best way to give back is to give a monster effort on the football field.
"We're not just playing for us this year," Stewart said before heading off to a recent practice.
Instead, the Sir Bills want to play for everyone that helped them get a chance to have a 2019 season. They want to thank their friends and neighbors, the store manager and coach from the next town over, and the teacher and farmer from the village beyond.
Football and all other sports at Johnstown were left out of the school budget that first failed and then passed on a second vote a few months ago, but athletics were revived with a diligent and far-reaching fundraising push that is still continues.
"Sports is something we always had," said Noah Massey, who, like Stewart, plays basketball and baseball as well as football. "There was definitely a doubt in my mind about us having sports."
"It was definitely scary after the first vote. I was kind of just mad," said Stewart, a senior center and defensive end. "Some people were saying what you love isn't important, but the community got my heart back. It's nice to see not only our community, but other communities [helping]. It's inspiring."
Johnstown football coach and fundraising committee member Tyler Hall said over 240,000 of the $311,000 needed to operate the entire sports program for the 2019-20 academic year has been generated.
"So many people came together and gave money. We're playing for the city and all of those people," said Massey, a senior wide receiver and defensive safety. "Without them, we wouldn't be on the field right now."
Johnstown will host Schuylerville in a Class B North Division game Friday night at 7 p.m. at Knox Field as part of Section II's opening weekend for football.
"There's not pressure, but motivation, to put out a good product," Hall said.
Of Johnstown's 20-player varsity roster, nine starters on both sides of the ball return from last year's 3-5 edition that closed out with a win over Ichabod Crane. Hall likes his size and depth up front, and likes his cast of playmakers.
Johnstown and Schuylerville are joined in the North Division by defending state champion Glens Falls, Broadalbin-Perth, Hudson Falls and Lansingburgh.
"Glens Falls and Schuylerville are the top two. I can see us competing for the third spot," Hall said. "The last three years it's been us, BP and Hudson Falls fighting for it."
Johnstown is seeking its first winning season since 1995 (7-2).
"We want to change that," Hall said. "That's a big drought."
"Especially with the budget, it would be a great year to make a statement," Stewart said. "If this isn't the year to do it, what year would be?"