Middle school football cuts stiff-armed

Posted 9/18/19

Credit team effort for a last-minute save of junior high football in western Jefferson County, reflecting the nationwide slide in football participation.

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Middle school football cuts stiff-armed

Posted

Credit team effort for a last-minute save of junior high football in western Jefferson County, reflecting the nationwide slide in football participation.

After a few days of uncertainty and tension, the Blue Heron Middle School football program will continue this season, but only because of a merger with the Chimacum Middle School football program.

The existence of the middle school football program in Port Townsend appeared to be in doubt on the afternoon of Sept. 11, when Athletic Director Lysa Falge met with the families of the seventh- and eighth-grade players who had arrived on the Port Townsend High School football field to deliver bad news: without 18 players, the district would not support the program.

Parents such as John Allen objected to not receiving prior notice, and said the 18-player minimum was arbitrary, given that 15 players showed up on the field Sept. 11, and the team has had as few as 11 and 12 players in previous years.

“You only need 11,” Allen said Sept. 11. “These boys were in tears.”

Polm explained that 18 players was not “a firm rule,” but was a precaution borne out of concerns that not all of the players who initially showed up would qualify or continue to participate.

“Those seasons that parents were referring to, when they had as few as 11 or 12, were what the team ended the season with,” Polm said. “In some cases, I think we’ve asked other teams if they were willing to play with as few as 10.”

The shrinking turnout matches national trends. Participation in high school sports declined for the first time in 30 years, according to the most recent survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

And the biggest contributors to the decline were football and basketball. Participation in boys 11-player football declined by 30,829 participants nationwide to 1,006,013 – the lowest mark since 1,002,734 in the 1999-2000 school year.

That marked the fifth consecutive year participation in football dropped, amid reports of the prevalence of head injuries in tackle football.

Port Townsend School District Superintendent John Polm reported he had spoken with the Chimacum School District, and told The Leader he is pursuing a combined middle school football program with Chimacum this fall. While he was unsure at press time how many Chimacum players will sign on, he expressed confidence it would be enough to allow the middle school program to continue.

Although the Chimacum School District didn’t reach its decision until the evening of Sept. 16, the PT boys continued to turn out for practice sessions on the afternoons on Sept. 13 and 16.

“If they want to be able to play in time for their first game Thursday (Sept. 19), they have to get the required number of practices in,” parent Tiffany Carver said Sept. 13. “Our coach is dedicated to trying to help them out, and the middle school kids spent more time in the weight room this summer than the high school kids did.”

Players such as Kai Coggins said they’re relying on their middle school experience to prepare them for high school football, so they “don’t get trampled,” while teammates such as Sean Hammett and Caden Yackulic agreed that youth sports such as football are among “the only things to do” in Port Townsend for young people.

“People say that sports like football teach you life lessons,” said middle school player River Morris, one of this summer’s regular denizens of the weight room. “But if we can’t play football, we can’t learn those lessons.”

While Hammett credited football with helping inspire many students to keep their grades up, Yackulic likewise cited its value in preparing students for other sports later on in the year.

“You stay healthy and in shape, rather than spending time playing video games or getting into bad stuff,” Yackulic said.

Even before the district rendered its final decision, all the boys interviewed Sept. 11 told The Leader they would stick with the football program, whatever it took.

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