Not long after Scott Battas fired himself as Mascoutah High’s football coach, he took a hard look at what worked and what didn’t during his seven-year tenure, the last three of which he also served as the school’s athletics director.
What he found was a football team and an athletic program in need of radical change.
“My overwhelming conclusion is we weren’t strong enough or fast enough and that fell directly on me,” Battas said.
The most efficient way to make the Indians faster and stronger was to offer weight and speed training classes as part of the physical education curriculum. If the students could work out during the school day there would be more time to practice their specific sports after school.
It wasn’t a new concept, but it was new to Mascoutah. The school needed someone to help develop and lead this new program which is now called Weight Fit.
Josh Lee was that someone.
Lee spent five years as Riverton High’s football coach. During that time he’d helped get its weight and speed training curriculum off the ground, too.
Battas knew the Indians had found their man before Lee’s interview was through.
“It wasn’t really close after he interviewed for the job,” Battas said. “We knew he just fit here.”
Lee, 41, left Riverton in 2013 to take a job with a pharmaceutical company. A football player at Illiopolis High and McKendree University, it wasn’t long before coaching football and teaching pulled him back. He couldn’t resist.
“I started missing it,” Lee said. “I thought I had more left in the tank.”
Five years later Lee’s tank isn’t empty, but he’s stepping away again. In mid-March Lee told his football players that this pandemic-shortened spring season would be his last. He’s taken another job with a pharmaceutical company, an opportunity he doesn’t think he can pass up.
When Mascoutah (4-1) hosts Triad (5-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Mississippi Valley Conference Bowl Championship game it will be Lee’s final night on the sideline. His announcement has been greeted with profound appreciation and a healthy amount of sadness. When he broke the news to the football players they knew something was up before he spit it out.
“We all knew something was wrong when he started talking,” junior quarterback Chase Hanson said. “We were all sad to hear it. Now that it’s settled in, we’re prepared for it.”
Lee’s impact on the football program has been memorable. The Indians were 0-9 in Battas’s final season. In 2016 they were a smidge better in Lee’s first year as they went 1-8 overall but 0-5 in the MVC for a second consecutive season.
In 2018 Mascoutah was 6-4 and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons. In 2019 the Indians went 9-4 and advanced to the Class 5A semifinals.
This season there are no playoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is still a chance for Lee to make some history on his way out the door. Mascoutah’s last conference championship came in 2007, which it shared with Triad after both finished 4-1.
A win Saturday would give Mascoutah its first outright league championship since 1990.
“It’s definitely a motivation boost,” Hanson said. “The whole team is focused on doing this for Coach Lee and our seniors.”
Lee’s tenure as football coach will end Saturday, but his legacy extends well beyond the gridiron. As the lead instructor for Weight Fit, Lee has been integral in helping all the athletes at Mascoutah become bigger, faster and stronger.
“He’s revolutionized what we do here at Mascoutah,” Battas said. “Our athletic program is having success and it doesn’t happen without Josh Lee.”
Katie Schneider, 16, counts herself among those successes. A sophomore sprinter and pole vaulter for the Mascoutah girls track team, she had one semester of Weight Fit as a freshman. At her first preseason track practice last year she laid down the fastest 200-meter time on the team.
“I grew as an athlete,” Schneider said. “It’s made me better.”
This spring she took two semesters of Weight Fit and has continued to improve her speed and strength. She’s grown to love the feeling she gets after a good workout.
“My favorite exercise is the hang clean even if it makes my whole body hurt all over,” Schneider said.
Most students arrive at Weight Fit without much knowledge or experience in the weight room. That’s how Lee likes it. He and his fellow teacher, Frank Campbell, can show the students proper weight lifting techniques.
“We don’t have to break them out of bad habits,” Lee said.
To make the Indians faster, Weight Fit puts an emphasis on speed and velocity training with plyometrics and sprinting.
The best days are speed testing days. The students sprint a short distance to see what their personal best speed is in miles per hour. Once you hit 20 mph you get a bracelet. The bracelets are color coded and with each mile per hour you add you get another one.
The most coveted bracelet is when someone hits 24 miles per hour. It’s gold and, it turns out, quite rare. Hanson is currently the only student at Mascoutah walking the halls with the gold 24 mph bracelet around his wrist.
“A little bling for your wrist,” Hanson said with a laugh. “It’s a pretty big deal, everybody wants to come and see it.”
Under Lee’s watchful eyes not only are Mascoutah’s athletes succeeding but so are kids who don’t participate in sports. There are about 260 kids enrolled in Weight Fit. Over the years Lee has received emails, letters and had conversations with kids after they graduate that express to him how Weight Fit helped them feel more confident in themselves and fostered a love of exercise and fitness.
“That’s incredibly rewarding to have that long, lasting impact,” Lee said. “It’s really great.”
Mascoutah will continue on without Lee as its football coach or its lead Weight Fit instructor when the school year ends. Campbell, who's also an assistant coach on the football team, will assume lead duties for Weight Fit. But the work Lee has done has made an everlasting impact on the students, the school and the community. He may be leaving, but he’ll never be forgotten.
“It my job to build on what he’s established,” Battas said. “He wants this program to continue to take off. We owe it to what he’s done to keep the foot on the gas.”