The Press Box For Sept. 20
High School Football for some small schools in West Virginia, is increasingly in danger of extinction. Numbers don’t normally lie but when it comes to the safety of the kids, it becomes very clear that numbers are correct when counting all injuries not just concussions. At some point school administrators, coaches, athletic directors and even parents must consider what is more important. The safety of our children or the glory of playing in a Friday night high school football game with little chance of winning.
I personally love to watch high school football as much as the next guy. However each year it seems like more and more schools are struggling to round up at least 20 players. The talk in pre-season seems to hinge more on how many are out than how well they will do.
I took a look at nine different schools the past two weeks which have 20 or less players on the roster. Out of those nine schools five of them had 15 or less in uniform while one only had 13 and another had to cancel for lack of players.
One school had four injured standing on the sideline and three more went down during the game. If your an athlete at one of these schools, what’s your motivation to play? You play the whole time, which sounds good, but you get beat up and worn out against the opponents first teamers, many of whom are playing only one way. And then, once the game gets out of hand and all you can think about is going home, you get to play the second half against the second and third string players who view knocking your tired body around as the highlight of their season. There could be nothing less cool than getting embarrassed and smacked around week after week on the football field.
Still it’s admirable but irresponsible to put 13 or 14 players on a field to play an entire game, (even if it’s shortened because of the lopsided score) against a roster of 30-35 players. It’s just not safe! Here is what’s happening and it’s becoming a problem for the future of high school football. One year of poor participation at a high school leads to the next year and than the next. Pretty soon one school cuts it’s program and than another and soon kids start finding other things to do. They lose the desire to participate in a program that seldom wins and where the chances of gettitg hurt are very high.
I don’t want to eliminate the sport. I love it just as much as the next person and I see the benefits of it. Culturally it’s important. But the truth is, there are way to many terrible injuries, these are troubling injuries that keep the issue in the forefront. It is tragic and senseless that we alow it to continue. In West Virginia this year already there have been at least two athletes who have missed more than three weeks of school, not just football. There have also been three known concussion and countless other injuries from minor sprains to fractures.
I talked to an athletic director of a small school with less than 15 players that lost it’s first game by 50 points to a bad team and by 60 points to a worse team a week later. They are now down to 13 players. The athletic director said it was his first responsibility to provide for the safety of the students and that, in his estimation, he would be reneging on that mission if he allowed the team to play.
A local team decided not to play the states number one ranked team a couple weeks ago for lack of players. Both teams agreed along with the WVSSAC, to cancel the contest. Both teams are now playing a nine game season. It was the right thing to do!
There has to be a solution to this dilemma. Our communities love football but when your 11 starters usually play both ways and you lose four or five of them and you have to use reserve players, you can’t continue to play teams with full rosters.
I have suggested several times that we need to go to four classes. I stand by that but it isn’t the answer for football if we can’t field enough players. However there are other options. Some states are playing eight man football and it is just as exciting. Michigan is one of those states and since they started in 2009, they now have around 70 high schools participating, it’s happening mostly west of the Mississippi and mostly with small rural schools, mainly because they have no other choice. Eight man football is not a watered down version of the game, it is good old fashion football played with less numbers. The rules are basically the same and the equipment is the same. The field is not quite as wide but just as long. And by the way there are players in the NFL right now who played their high school ball on eigth man teams!
It is definately needed right now in West Virginia. If the governing board of high school athletics can’t bring about a change and I mean soon, I see a rapid decline it small school football. I would not allow a child of mine to participate on a football team with less than 20 players on the team in uniform. It’s just not worth it, to risk the chance of a tragic accident.
Right now the game of football is under attack. The Ohio Valley is a hotbed for football, and in some ways football is the identity of our schools. It brings a band, cheerleaders, a place for the community to meet on Friday nights. Football is important to our schools, students, and residents, the safety of our children however is more important. We’re not only talking about concussions here we’re talking all injuries, many that last a lifetime. I believe this is why there is such a decline in numbers of high schoolm participants. Schools with low numbers just can’t compete safely.
The WVSSAC needs to consider eight man football for schools with 150 students and under and require at least 14 in uniform to play. And I propose they add a rule to the high school level requiring an 11 man team to have at least 18 players in uniform to play. When a team only has 14-15 players to start, coaches can soon face tough choices. They are only a couple injuries from doing something they don’t want to do, ask 11-12 players to play the duration of a game. That’s not safe! firstname.lastname@example.org