High school football programs opt for 8-man teams

Sports

(NewsNation) — The board of education in one northwestern Ohio city voted 5-0 Thursday on a proposal from Sebring High School to switch from an 11-man to an eight-man football team to enter the surrounding Northern 8 Football League for membership. 

Having always struggled with low participation numbers and inexperience, Sebring’s head principal, Brian Clark, told The Alliance Review his school doesn’t mind moving out of the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference, which they’ve participated in since 2017 — at least not for football.

“We wanted to be proactive, professional and a responsible member by making the decision at this time,” Clark told the publication.

According to the local outlet, the school hadn’t had a winning season in 30 years and was hoping for a chance with the addition of new head coach Anthony Agresta to try something different.

“When Anthony took over the program, there were only 10 players on the roster,” Clark said. “He went out and got some more kids to come out, increasing the roster to 18, but seven players had never played organized football.”

Clark and Sebring’s high schools are not alone. NorthPointe Christian in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was reportedly a perennial playoff team in 11-man football before having to switch to eight-man football before the 2021 season.

Both Midwestern high school sports teams are representative of a nationwide trend, as high school sports participation is down 4% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a September report from The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).  

”As we see our kids returning to play, we’re looking at football numbers. They flux a little bit in terms of the type of program, but the kids are still engaged,” said National Federation of State High School Associates CEO Karissa Niehoff to NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” on Friday.

Education and ads about concussions and their role in brain injuries called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are largely believed the be the reason behind the decline in participation.

”The symptoms present are depression, anxiety, ADHD, and schools and parents don’t realize that it could be because of repetitive hitting,” said Karen Zegel, founder of the Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation, to NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” on Friday.

Zegal founded the foundation after her son, former college running back Patrick Risha, died by suicide and was found to have Level 2 CTE in his autopsy.

Additionally, big names such as Brett Favre have been urging parents to wait until their kids are 14 years of age to play tackle football.

There are ”a lot of aspects to when it’s OK to start to tackle, and it’s not just, I think, a, calendar age. It’s much more so about the development, player protection, coaching, education, and just knowing when each individual … is ready,” Zegal said.

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