CENTER — Disappointment and disbelief were the two emotions prevailing last week when the Center community learned there won’t be a football season at Center Schools this year.
The announcement was anti-climactic, after the Center football team made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004. The last time Center sat out a season was 1998.
The Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) told 9News in Denver last month that the failure of three schools in one year to gather enough players for the game is highly unusual. Longmont Christian and Manzanola won’t have enough players to make the grade, either.
High School Principal and Athletic Director Kevin Jones sat down with Center Schools Superintendent Chris Vance last Thursday to explain what happened.
“This is awful for this school district,” Jones said, explaining the school had just hired on Brian Ullery as its new football coach. “He had two spring meetings to see who was interested and talk about the summer,” Jones explained. “But at the first meeting, only three showed up, and that was the first red flag.”
Jones said the school advertised the spring meetings, so 90 high school males knew when and where the meetings would be held. The most who were interested this year was nine and two of those students didn’t even show up until after school began, he added. Several had never been to any practices.
“It’s a cycle,” Jones commented. “The number of kids in wrestling have been down for the past two years, too. If it’s emphasized at home, I think it would help.”
Jones noted there are benefits for parents when students play football beyond the physical side of the game, because for two hours of practice parents know where they are. Grades must be kept up and drug tests discourage drug use.
Several different factors can account for the decline in interest in the game, Jones pointed out, including increased behavior problems, drug use, also concerns about deaths on the field, concussions and other injuries.
In 2015, CBS News estimated the number of high school football players in the nation declined by 25,000 over the previous two-year period. Reasons given were catastrophic injuries and lack of interest.
“I don’t know what these kids are thinking,” Jones said, shaking his head. He noted that last year’s graduating class was the largest Center has seen in many years, but six underclassmen playing ball last year returned to school this year.
If the season is started low on the numbers side then the school runs the risks of forfeiting games, “and that not only hurts kids, but isn’t fair to the teams that play us,” Jones said. Unlike 1998, when Center students still wishing to play football could go as a group to other schools and play on their teams, things are different today. CHSAA rules have changed and now students cannot go as a group but must individually choose between Sangre, Sargent, Mountain Valley and Monte Vista school teams.
“So when those nine kids showed up last Thursday for the final meeting, I gave them their options,” even though several had not attended practice sessions, Jones remarked. The school’s enrollment is too large under CHSAA regulations to allow them to play eight-man football.
Superintendent Vance said he would like to see the school bring both soccer and football back, and he and Jones suggested some strategies to work on so those sports can possibly return next year.
“We’re building a plan for the future,” Jones said, with Coach Ullery planning to offer incentives for those who want to play next year. There also are plans to start a football club and involve alumnus in booster activities. The school needs to recruit at least 15 players to be able to form a team for next year.
“I just wanted to inform people about the process and get the message out,” Vance concluded. “Now we can look toward the future.”