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George Guido: Small rosters leading to big problems

October 3, 2018

Imani Christian Academy’s Rahmon Hart Jr. goes for the ball when Jeannette hosted Imani, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018.Imani Christian Academy’s Rahmon Hart Jr. goes for the ball against Jeannette on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. Imani is ranked No. 2 in Class A but had to play a recent game with just 16 players.

Coaches and other scholastic athletic officials warned us about this 30 years or so ago.

Now it’s here.

Several high schools have forfeited football games for lack of available players.

Mapletown canceled its game earlier this season against Clairton; Saltsburg did the same against Ligonier Valley.

Both of those schools got some injured players back onto the field and have resumed their seasons.

But Carrick, from the City League, canceled the remainder of its season last week, leaving its opponents with an unanticipated hole in their schedules.

Thus far, no Alle-Kiski Valley schools have been affected by forfeits.

Northgate, which hosts Springdale on Saturday, played a game with 12 players on Sept. 22 but reportedly had several players return this past weekend.

Other schools have player numbers in the high teens such as Imani Christian, which had 16 players suit up for a recent game against Valley. The Saints are Trib Total Media’s No. 2 Class A team, but an injury bug or a flu bug could be problematic.

Teams having to forfeit or cancel create more problems than meets the eye.

Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said after the Saltsburg forfeit his school lost gate revenue, and the booster clubs lost revenue with no concession stand open, no 50-50 drawing, etc.

All A-K schools except Fox Chapel have lost student enrollment (see chart).

The percentage of boys still playing football is good, but that fact is deceiving because the percentage still relates to a smaller enrollment.

Some parents don’t want their sons playing football because of all the concussion-related problems that have come to light. With safety measures and concussion protocols, athletic officials are hoping the drop in participation for that reason is temporary.

High school football appeared doomed in the late 1970s and early ’80s after several players suffered spinal-cord injuries and were paralyzed. Families saw what happened to Valley’s Scott Doutt, Plum’s Jeff Boynton and East Brady’s Carl Stimac -- all of whom suffered spinal-cord injuries during games -- and participation numbers dropped. Those numbers, however, rebounded several years later, but that was done with high schools that had larger enrollments than now.

Some of the solutions available include the obvious -- merging school districts -- but that sort of thing isn’t done overnight.

People don’t want to give up their community identities.

It took seven years for New Kensington and Arnold to come together. A bizarre suggestion in 1958 had Arnold and Lower Burrell holding three negotiating sessions to form one high school. New Kensington and Upper Burrell would form another high school.

The Kiski Area School District was formed in 1958 with 27 school directors in nine municipalities winnowing down to nine by the time the high school opened in 1962. But Washington Township didn’t come on board until 1966.

A merger isn’t helping Northgate, formed in 1976 when Avalon and Bellevue high schools combined.

Another tact might be to co-op programs and not schools. A school with numbers too small can send their players to a nearby school.

Cornell High School dropped football in 2010 and formed a co-op with Quaker Valley. But Cornell revived football in 2016.

With six classifications, a co-op could put the receiving school in a higher classification.

But if these participation numbers keep dwindling, schools, coaches and parents will have some tough decisions.

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