Sports

Schools lose football and students

The decision of the Yellow Springs High School administration not to field a football team this fall for the first time since 1993 has impacted the school community. While the low number of players ultimately forced the program’s closure earlier this month, at least one local student has since chosen to transfer to a school with an active football team, and several others are considering doing the same. For many of the players, losing football may be one unfortunate result of attending school in a small district.

Football is a sport that loves numbers. A typical football team can be 70 to 80 strong, with offensive teams, defensive teams, special teams, kickers, and plenty of substitutes for every position. But since the Yellow Springs program started in the 1970s, the school has always struggled with numbers in the 20s and 30s, which resulted in cutting the sport altogether for the fall season in 1993, according to YSHS Athletic Director Julie Speelman. When Football Coach Jerome Crosswhite started the program again the following year, he ran a small junior varsity team until he could build enough interest to field a varsity team again, according to his wife and statistics keeper Lisa Crosswhite.

But this summer the numbers of players who came out for football dropped to an all-time low. According to YSHS/McKinney School Principal Tim Krier, 13 youth came to a meeting the football program held for interested players in July. Krier, Speelman and Head Coach Craig McCann made a recruiting sweep and called athletes and their families to get more to commit to playing the 2010 season. At the next meeting they held in early August, even fewer students showed up with the required signed forms and medical releases. On the first day of practice, the team consisted of nine eligible players.

Eleven players are needed to field a team according to the rules of football, Krier said, but the school’s policy, established by him and Speelman, is that 18 players is the number needed to field a safe team. The team didn’t have it, and at the Aug. 12 school board meeting, Yellow Springs School Superintendent Mario Basora reported that the high school had cancelled the football program for the year.

For YSHS senior Sam Morrison, losing the football team “has been absolutely crushing to him,” according to Sam’s mother Maggie Morrison. Sam spent the entire year training on his own, lifting weights, running, jumping rope every day in order to be in the best shape for his senior year of football, she said. “It’s been his dream to play division II college level football, and this was going to be his senior year to shine, to get [recruiting] tapes—he was all prepared,” Morrison said.

Though he has grown up in Yellow Springs and played with the local guys since peewee football, Sam chose to attend Enon High School so that he could maintain his association with the sport he loves. Though Ohio Athletic Association rules prohibit transfer students from playing their former sport within one year of the transfer, Sam has been invited to practice with Enon’s team and do everything but officially compete.

“It’s hard to go to a new school my senior year, but I really want to play football,” he said in an interview over the weekend.

Sam’s teammate, Jake Fugate, a YSHS senior, also considered transferring to a school with an active football program, such as Greenon or Wayne. Though he considers football to be “his life,” he prefers Yellow Springs as a school and a place where all of his friends are, he said this week. For the moment he has started with the YSHS boys soccer team instead.

Several other players have considered transferring, including Tyler Qualls, a senior who came to football his sophomore year and found he loved to play, according to his mom, Lisa Ford. Tyler especially liked the teamwork, camaraderie and bonding at the Friday night games, he said.

The small number of players on last year’s football team initially raised concern from former Principal John Gudgel and Speelman. Though the team with 15 players was large enough to compete, some of the athletes weren’t committed to attending practices but still expected to play the games, which presented both ethical and safety issues for kids who weren’t physically prepared for the plays and tackles they might be faced with on the field, Krier said. While there is no school-wide policy on the matter, Krier and Speelman decided this year to require that players and a parent or guardian sign a commitment letter, agreeing that players would attend practices and stay with the program for the entire season.  

Then it became clear that four of the players from last year’s team were academically ineligible to play this season, and the number of eligible, committed players dropped to nine.

“We called each of the families when we found out the numbers weren’t close, and some said they were investigating other options, and others said they would finish their senior year here — that Yellow Springs and school is about more than football,” Krier said.

The loss of the team is frustrating to players and their families, and some speculated about the cause. Though according to Krier, even with the ineligible students the team was not big enough this year, Amy Fugate wonders why so many student athletes who are on individualized education programs are having trouble succeeding academically in Yellow Springs. Several parents, including Morrison and Ford, hoped that the school would be more flexible about extending the sign-up deadline until late in the summer, as they often have in past years to give late-comers a chance to play, Morrison said. And Crosswhite thinks the coach and school leaders could have done a better job at holding winter training sessions and maintaining continuity all year long for the program. Coach McCann did not return phone calls for this article.

But the decision was most difficult for the players, some of whom have worked for years to get better and improve the level of play each year for the YSHS team.

“It’s very discouraging — I never saw it coming,” Tyler said, adding that he didn’t know what he would do on Friday nights now.

Morrison, who was determined to find an option for her son, learned that if he wanted to play high school football this year, she would have to sell her house and move to the new district for a year. They decided not to uproot for just one year.

“It’s a hard lesson to learn,” Morrison said. While Sam is practicing with a team, his situation is far from ideal. “It’s been very hard on him — he goes to all the practices and has to sit on the bench every Friday night.”

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